In Sickness and In Health – A Husband’s Love for his Wife Helps Her Recover from Rare Disease

Patient Experience

Feb 14, 2022

Mary and Ronald Orlando have been married for 53 years. They say the secret of their success is “knowing each other’s faults and strengths and accepting both. Treating each other with respect. And loving each other.” That love was apparent each day of Mary’s recovery from her sudden illness.

On July 24, they were traveling back to their home in Bradenton, Fla. after their grandson’s baseball tournament when Mary started feeling ill. By the next morning, she didn’t recognize Ronald. She was diagnosed with herpes encephalitis, a rare disorder caused by the Herpes Simplex Virus. While most may get cold sores, for 1 in 500,000 people, the virus enters the brain causing inflammation. In Mary’s case, this resulted in paralysis, cognitive issues and the inability to breathe on her own.

After several weeks in an acute care hospital, Mary was transferred to a specialty hospital on a ventilator. As she improved, her doctor recommended physical rehabilitation at one of two places – one near their home and Brooks Rehabilitation in Jacksonville, Fla. After their daughter visited the closer option, they chose Brooks.

“I thought I was in heaven. It was so beautiful and clean,” Mary said upon arriving at Brooks. Not wanting to leave her side, Ronald shared that he was most relieved about the fact that he could stay in Mary’s room with her.

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Kenneth Ngo, MD, FAAMP&R, oversaw Mary’s medical care at Brooks Rehabilitation Hospital – University Campus (BRH). “Even though the viral infection was treated with medication, it took a huge toll on her body and it took her a long time to recover. We addressed her medical needs at Brooks by giving her nutrition by PEG tube feeding, treating her other medical needs such as high blood pressure, and mobilizing her to minimize the risk of infections like pneumonia. It took a lot of nursing and therapy help to mobilize her because she was significantly weak, unable to even hold her head up when she first came to Brooks,” said Dr. Ngo.

Ronald shared that it was Mary’s speech therapist Yarimar “Yaya” Rodriguez that first got her to smile and then eat again. After a month at BRH, Mary continued to improved and was transferred to Brooks University Crossing for care. Ronald moved across the street to Helen’s House, Brooks Rehabilitation’s temporary family housing, but was back at Mary’s side each morning. Mary continued in her therapies at UC and also at the Brooks Neuro Recovery Center (NRC) using Cyberdyne HAL technology.

“When Mary first came to UC, she had so much difficulty even sitting on the edge of the bed. It brought me such joy helping her improve,” said Andrea Gomez, COTA. Mary’s physical therapists agreed. “Mary is such a hard worker. She never refused a new challenge. Ron has been such an important part of Mary’s recovery. He is always gathering as much knowledge as he can from the therapists to support Mary through her rehabilitation,” said Heather T. Cummings, PT, DPT, Lead Physical Therapist, NRC.

After months of rehabilitation, Mary and Ronald were able to head back home just in time for Valentine’s Day. They shared a sweet treat with the staff at UC to thank them for the “wonderful care” Mary received.

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Alyse Hausman, PT, DPT, shared, “As part of Brooks Neurologic Physical Therapy Residency, I had the pleasure of working with Mary at BRH and then again at UC within the Brooks system. She went from not being able to speak or move one side of her body to walking out the door to go home after many months of rehab. With Mary’s husband, Ron, as her biggest cheerleader and support system, she was able to make amazing progress. These are the types of success stories that drive us to do what we do as healthcare professionals and why I’m proud to be a part of the Brooks Rehabilitation team.”

“Mary has really beaten the odds and has made a tremendous recovery; one that was difficult to imagine five months ago. I’m certain that her husband’s love and commitment to her helped her beat the odds. Ronald and Mary really taught us the power of love and commitment for one another, truly living up to the vow of “in sickness and in health,” said Dr. Ngo.

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