You couldn’t blame Mike Neals for thinking he would never walk again.
Diabetes took both of the 79-year-old’s legs in 2012, sending him to four months of physical therapy at The Springs at Crystal Lake Rehabilitation Center.
But with two prosthetic legs and the help of a walker, Neals stood on his own and walked into The Springs’ rehabilitation reunion breakfast, which was held for patients who have finished their therapy programs.
About 50 former patients and their family members attended Wednesday’s breakfast, a celebration the rehab center began in 2011 and holds three to four times a year.
“We are primarily short-term rehabilitation,” said Amie Eguizabal, director of business development at The Springs. “What ends up happening is people usually stay less than three weeks, and then they go home. Oftentimes we don’t see them unless they come back to us again for another injury or illness.”
The breakfast was a chance for patients to reunite with one another, and it also gave therapists a chance to see how their patients have progressed since leaving the center.
“We have to put a name tag on them because some people we can’t recognize,” Eguizabal said of how much her patients have improved. “We can’t even believe it’s the same person.”
Charlene Mueller came into the therapy center in February after her knee replacement, and she enjoyed her experience so much she now comes back regularly as a volunteer.
“I didn’t know what to expect,” she said. “Knee replacement therapy can be sort of rough. Now I walk fine. And my doctor, in the two visits I’ve seen him, he’s given me gold stars.”
Heather Kierl came to The Springs last March after suffering from a brain aneurysm, and after two weeks she was strong enough walk out of the center on her own. She too decided to volunteer with the center and has worked once a week for more than a year.
“I enjoy it,” she said. “I’ve made so many friends. I like being here because there are people who don’t always have visitors, and I like being able to talk to them so they aren’t lonely anymore.”
Rita Berks, 83, spent two weeks at The Springs four years ago after triple-bypass surgery and credited the rehab center with giving her the confidence to live on her own again.
“I did a lot of exercises,” she said. “They get you walking on your own. For an experience I had never been through before, it worked out very well. Once I got home I was fine. I knew what to do and how to do it.”
But the “rock star” of the day – as several people referred to him – was Neals, who is even taking driving lessons now with the help of hand controls.
“Rehab is hard, you know,” Neals said. “But [the therapists] did a good job.”
“I was frightened until I talked to the gals here and all the help,” said Pat Neals, Mike’s wife. “I saw he was in good hands. It gave me peace of mind.”