As dogwood trees bloomed back home in Loudon County this year, Bart and June Greenoe were 4,000 miles away enjoying banyan trees in Hawaii.
“This was one of the things on our bucket list we wanted to get done,” Bart says. “We wanted to go back and see Hawaii one more time.”
Bart had been stationed there during his time with the U.S. Navy, and the April trip was a third return to their former home state.
The dream vacation would have been beyond their imagination not too long ago. Bart suffered a debilitating illness and a surgery that put their lives on pause with an uncertain future.
“We spent a whole year in hospitals,” June says.
Bart credits the team at Covenant Health Therapy Center – Lenoir City, especially clinical specialist Ann Blackwood, with getting him out of a wheelchair and back on his feet.
“They gave me my life back,” Bart says. “I didn’t have one before I came here.”
Bart woke up one morning with a tingling sensation in his feet. It led to stumbling that affected his ability to walk. There was also excruciating back pain. The mysterious symptoms sent him to a hospital emergency department more than once, but even with an MRI and other testing methods, doctors couldn’t nail down the cause.
He still vividly remembers the moment a physician finally cracked the case and delivered a diagnosis of Guillain-Barre syndrome. GBS is a rare disorder in which the immune system attacks the body’s nerves. It can spread quickly, cause paralysis, and in the most severe cases, can be fatal.
Five days of intravenous immunoglobulin infusions stopped the progression of the disease, but by that time, Bart was already completely immobile. Hard work at a rehabilitation facility gave him upper body strength to shift from the bed to a seat, but he still required a wheelchair and constant help from his wife.
A Comeback and a Setback
In March of 2022, Bart had his first appointment with Ann Blackwood at Covenant Health Therapy Center-Lenoir City. It wasn’t Blackwood’s first time working with a GBS patient. She knew what to do, she knew where to start, and she knew it would take time.
“You don’t want to create fatigue because you don’t want to cause more nerve damage, so it’s a very slow process,” Blackwood says. Meanwhile, June continued to faithfully carry out her marriage vows to support her husband of 56 years “in sickness and in health.”
Blackwood created a personalized program of intensive exercises. Bart says that along with her expertise, she applied just the right dosage of empathy and support.
“After a few weeks, I said, ‘Okay, where am I going to be a month from now?’ She said, ‘You’ll be on a walker. In another month, you’ll be on a cane. In another month, you’ll be walking,’” Bart says, “and that’s exactly what happened.”
He was up and walking independently after about three months of physical therapy.
Bart returned to Covenant Health Therapy Center-Lenoir City after knee replacement surgery in 2023. With Blackwood’s encouragement, he was ready to meet his latest challenge.
“When things got hard for me, and I felt pain, she didn’t criticize me,” Bart says. “She’s very positive. I always felt like I was making progress. I always felt like I was on the way to recovery.”
At his first session, Bart could barely stand for 30 seconds. Today he walks at a very brisk pace of four miles per hour or more.
Bart doesn’t seek out the spotlight and is reluctant to talk about his recovery. He’s coming forward because he wants a public forum to acknowledge what Blackwood and other therapists at Covenant Health Therapy Center-Lenoir City have done for him.
“They’re all great here, and it’s a great place to come and get help,” Bart says. “I knew Ann was helping me. I looked forward to coming here because I knew I was getting better.”
Blackwood and her colleagues are experts in physical movement and function trained to understand how the body is affected by medical conditions and trauma and guide the body back to functioning at the best possible level.
“We can help you go where you want to and get back to doing what you want to be able to do,” she says. “It takes effort, but there’s power in movement.”
To find out if physical therapy can help you or someone you care about, visit the Covenant Health Therapy Center or call 865-271-6080 today.
Covenant Health marketing team provided information for this report.