I feel lucky that I was transferred to SCVMC for their Rehabilitation Program"

Aakriti White Coat

Dr. Koch's Recovery Story - 

PHysician turned patient

As a 78-year-old semi-retired cardiologist, Dr. Frank Koch led a busy life. He worked part-time and stayed physically active, walking for exercise. He was especially busy courting his fiancé, Jeanette. They enjoyed eating at different restaurants, nature walks, and visiting family and friends, far and near.

In 2022, Dr. Koch experienced decreasing strength in his arms and legs, and difficulty walking caused by narrowing of his spinal cord, high in his neck. Over the past eighteen years he had five spinal surgeries. Dr. Koch and his physicians decided another spinal surgery was reasonable treatment for his progressive severe C2 spinal stenosis. During surgery, an intra-operative complication occurred which caused a significant decrease in sensation and strength (primarily in his right arm and hand), generalized body weakness, further difficulty with his unsteady gait, and bowel and bladder dysfunction. Once he was medically stable at the initial hospital, he was transferred to Santa Clara Valley Medical Center (SCVMC) Acute Rehabilitation Unit for rehabilitation of these multiple post-operative disabilities.

At SCVMC, Dr. Koch participated in therapy a minimum of three hours a day. A team including his Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation physician, Dr. Edward Chaw, nurses, physical, occupational and recreational therapists; as well as a dietician, case manager, social worker and peer support group all helped him with his recovery. When he arrived at the rehabilitation unit, he was walking short distances with a walker with assistance from others. Upon discharge from the hospital he could walk much longer distances with less help. He also worked on activities of daily living that he was unable to do when he arrived at SCVMC: toileting, shaving, showering, combing his hair, dressing, tying his shoes and feeding himself. All of these activities were initially very challenging   due to poor balance and reduced strength and coordination in his arms and legs, especially a non-functioning right arm and hand. One occupational therapy exercise that Dr. Koch especially enjoyed was writing love letters to Jeanette. Another was practicing putting a ring on her finger. To this day, Dr. Koch practices the OT/PT mantra of “slow and under control.” All of these activities continued to improve with occupational and physical therapy as an outpatient at SCVMC in the months that followed.

Dr. Koch was very impressed with all his caregivers and their approach to patient care. He appreciated their teamwork, whereby the staff is immediately aware from the patient’s call light of the patient’s needs and, if that staff is not immediately able to help, the request gets forwarded to another staff, assuring that help arrives quickly. At times, the charge nurse was the one to help. He never had to wait more than one to two minutes. All doctors know how very important nursing care is, and at SCVMC,  Dr. Koch reported that he enjoyed the best nursing care that he had ever experienced.

Dr. Koch greatly appreciated the time Dr. Chaw spent with Jeanette and him. He had never had a physician spend that much time with him. Jeanette enthusiastically says: “The entire staff of the spinal cord rehab unit at SCVMC is a polished team of dedicated individuals who provided guidance, assistance and encouragement. Nurses taught me skills that would be useful once Dr. Koch (Frances to her) was released to go home. Dr. Chaw was a constant presence throughout Frances’ stay. His calm, friendly demeanor introduces his brilliance. I will forever be grateful to Dr. Chaw and his team for their tireless efforts in Frances’ recovery. How fortunate we were to have the opportunity to benefit from the care of this outstanding group of people!”

Dr. Chaw credits Dr. Koch and Jeannette for the hard work they put into the recovery process. Dr. Chaw shared, “we understand the life-altering impact of these conditions on not only the individual but their family. The Rehabilitation Center at SCVMC has over 50 years of experience in providing care for all types of spinal cord injuries and dysfunction. With this experience and our ongoing commitment to innovative treatments, our team of specialized spinal cord injury professionals are dedicated to providing the highest quality of rehabilitation care possible. We are here to guide and support our patients in their ongoing effort to make the best recovery possible.”

Currently, Dr. Koch continues to enjoy walking for exercise (40-60 minutes a day) with the use of a cane for balance, and spending time with Jeanette. He is now able to toilet, shave with a razor blade, shower with assistive devices, comb his hair, dress himself, tie his shoelaces, and eat normally.

Dr. Koch credits his Rehabilitation team for creating a very beneficial experience for him. He is grateful for the excellent care he received and the improvements in his function, as a result of his rehabilitation stay.

Aakriti Graduation