PLAINVILLE — In the physical therapy room at Rooks County Health Center on Wednesday, Nicole Gosselin moved deliberately up a tall folding ladder, carefully taking each step.
“How’s it feeling so far?” asked physical therapist Justin Thummel, supporting her by holding fast to the gait belt wrapped around her torso.
“The second step was a little harder,” said 19-year-old Gosselin, who has been working with Thummel for five years.
Gosselin first came to RCHC to recover from injuries as a student athlete in basketball, volleyball and track at Hill City High School. But the last few years, Gosselin has worked with Thummel to relearn how to move her legs and walk again after being paralyzed by a large aggressive tumor that enveloped her spine. Confined to a wheelchair in 2016, now Gosselin walks with crutches, and sometimes even without them.
She’ll talk about her rehabilitation Saturday, March 30 as a featured guest at Rookstock 2019, a dinner and live-music fundraiser for the Rooks County Healthcare Foundation. All the money raised at the $100-a-plate event will go toward the nonprofit hospital’s new 11,000-square-foot Rehabilitation Center now under construction.
The center will open in September, centralizing the hospital’s existing therapy programs, which are designed to help everyone from stroke and cardiac patients, to those needing physical or occupational therapy, to children in speech therapy.
“It’s rare for a small hospital to have all those therapies,” said RCHC CEO A.J. Thomas, who is also board certified as a sports physical therapist, and who was previously the rehabilitation director at RCHC.
Thomas still works a half-day a week as a therapist, including sometimes with Gosselin. The new Rehabilitation Center is dear to his heart, he says. It will add space and a door to the outside for dropping off patients, but it will also have a rubberized walking track and a heated zero-entry aquatic therapy pool, the only one in the western half of the state, he said.
With capacity for four patients at a time, the pool’s floor is a treadmill that lifts and lowers. From ground level, patients walk or wheelchair on, then the treadmill lowers so water comes up to the knees, the waist or the chest.
Reducing the body’s weight, the water “gets them walking and moving sooner,” Thomas said. Water support takes most of the pain and discomfort out of the workout, he said, and relieves falling and balance problems.
“Our’s will be the only one you can set to depth, with a treadmill and with variable water,” Thomas said.
Gosselin commented that she hopes she’ll still be coming to the hospital when the new center opens.
“I think I’ll still be coming,” she said. “Maybe, but it just depends on how much faster we’re moving.”
For now, Thummel is helping Gosselin with her immediate goal to work during harvest this summer on her family’s farm near Bogue. In the past, she always drove a combine or a grain cart.
“He’s starting to have me go up a ladder,” Gosselin said. “It’s not as hard, actually, as I thought it was going to be.”
Knee surgery patient Donald Braun, Stockton, was also at the hospital Wednesday with his wife, Norma. Pants leg rolled up, Braun was in for follow up on his knee surgery with orthopedic surgeon Dr. Greg Sarin, who flies into Rooks County Regional Airport each month to perform surgeries at the hospital.
“Your staples are out,” said Sarin, gently touching Braun’s right knee. “Everything looks perfect, other than straightening that knee, work on straightening that knee.”
Braun comes to the hospital three times a week for physical therapy with therapist Amanda Riffel.
He is one of Sarin’s many patients who come from all around, including Norton, Smith Center, Hays and as far east as Salina, for knee and hip replacement, rotator cuff repair, ACL reconstruction, and surgery for shoulders, trigger fingers and carpal tunnel, to name a few. A fellowship trained orthopedic surgeon, Sarin’s practice is Storm Mountain Orthopaedics, Steamboat Springs, Colo. He specializes in sports, and is the orthopedic surgeon for the U.S. Olympic Ski team.
Sarin’s been flying in to RCHC for four years with Rural Partners in Medicine, a team of doctors who bring specialty care to rural areas. It takes the right combination of factors for a hospital to make the program work, he said.
“This is a very functioning building, a very, very good staff to be able to pull this off,” said Sarin, who first came to Kansas 25 years ago as a student at the University of Kansas Medical Center. Not only is the operating room large enough, he said, there is sufficient well-trained staff. And access to a fellowship trained orthopedic surgeon is rare for a rural community.
Rehabilitation and therapy are a very important part of the recovery process, Sarin said, noting “this area is very lucky to have this facility.”
At a cost of about $4.5 million, the new Rehabilitation Center will be second to none, said Frank Rajewski, the hospital’s chief financial officer. Funding for RCHC is a mix of county hospital-district mill levy, patient payments, donations, grant money and revenue bonds. The zero-entry aquatic pool was purchased with a grant from the Dane G. Hansen Foundation, Logan.
“We think we’re going to have something that very few small hospitals have,” said Rajewski. “We’ll stand out amongst small hospitals, and we think we already do.”
A critical access hospital, RCHC draws 23 percent of its patients from outside counties, including Graham, Phillips and Osborne, as well as 5 percent of patients from Ellis County. RCHC also cooperates with area hospitals to provide service, Rajewski said.
Thomas said the hospital partners with Plainville High School to offer athletic training services, as well as with Plainville’s Redbud Village to offer services at the assisted living facility. It has bolstered its neurological rehabilitation so patients don’t have to travel to a big city for help.
“We went and learned new techniques,” Thomas said. “We’ve always had great people, but we’ve invested more time and energy in training.”
The Rehabilitation Center will add 17 new employees, said Eric Sumearll, executive director of the Rooks County Healthcare Foundation. That includes two physical therapists and one occupational therapist already on board. Other hires will include physical therapist assistants, admissions staff, and clerks to take admissions information. RCHC expects a 13 percent to 20 percent annual increase in its patient numbers with the new Rehabilitation Center. It’s anticipated an estimated 47 percent of all the hospital’s therapy patients will qualify as low income, Sumearll said.
Commercial Builders, 2717 Canal Blvd., broke ground in July on the Rehabilitation Center, working through rain, snow and cold.
Sumearll walked the muddy construction site on Wednesday, where builders added materials to the steel, concrete and cement skeleton amid strong winds and an overcast sky.
“Come September we hope to be treating patients in here,” he said.
The Rooks County Healthcare Foundation has committed to raising $2 million for the Rehabilitation Center. With $1.6 million raised so far, it has $400,000 more to go, said Sumearll. Two past Rookstock events each raised $200,000. Sumearll is hoping for more this time, asking people to pledge or donate outright sums of $1,000, $2,000, $5,000 or $10,000.
“We already have the first $10,000,” Sumearll said, noting that a Plainville native living out of state has already written a check.
University of Kansas Health System’s Dr. Thomas Loew, Kansas City, Kan., plans to attend Rookstock 2019.
A pediatric oncologist, Loew treated Gosselin when she arrived paralyzed in September 2016 at the University of Kansas Medical Center with no idea what was the matter.
There she was diagnosed with Ewing’s sarcoma, one of only about 500 teens and young adults seen with the well-known bone tumor each year. The tumor, pressing against cervical and thoracic vertebrae, blocked signals from the brain.
“Her mother had been carrying her around,” Loew said. “Nicole was in a lot of pain.”
Surgeons removed as much of the tumor as possible to relieve pressure on the spinal cord, Loew said, and that was followed with chemotherapy and radiation, treatment that took the better part of a year.
“When you’re 16 and it looks like your whole world is just falling apart,” Loew said, “Nicole was appropriately an upset, angry young lady.”
Her desire to leave the hospital motivated her to work on sitting in a wheelchair, eating and sitting up in bed.
“Her work ethic was impeccable,” Loew said. “And I’ll be honest, there were serious doubts on our part she’d ever be able to move her toes. At one time she couldn’t even feel her toes. And now she’s walking. We told her there are no guarantees, that the only way to find out is to do the work. And she did. That’s the beauty and the miracle of Nicole.”
Gosselin isn’t sure how it happened, but she remembers one day in therapy at RCHC when she really wanted to stand up, and from there it got easier and easier, she said.
“I lost my strength and wanted to give up, but I kept pushing through, and now here I am,” Gosselin says. “I like doing things on my own, I don’t like people doing everything for me.”
Her first big milestone, she said, was moving out of her mom’s house and into her own apartment this past December.
“I had to do a lot of convincing,” she said, “not only of mom, but Justin too.”
Tickets to Rookstock 2019 are $100, or a table of eight for $700. They must be purchased in advance by calling Sumearll at 785-688-4428, emailing him at email@example.com, or by stopping by his office at the hospital.
Doors open at 6 p.m. at Steve’s Electric and Roustabout shop a mile north of Plainville, at the intersection of W Road and 17 Road.
The live music will include gospel, show tunes and popular tunes from the 60s, 70s and 80s. Live and silent auction items are listed at www.Rookstock.com.