Jeffrey C Physical Therapy Helps Man Regain Strength After COVID

"I love everybody in this organization. I feel like they are family.”

Jeffrey Camilo was willing to do anything to recover from the “beating” he took from the COVID-19 virus. But the Linden resident—barely able to stand after coming off a ventilator, with neurological damage to one foot and his fingers paralyzed with contractures—couldn’t do it alone.

His remarkable journey of recovery began when he found health care providers willing to match his mettle at Kindred Hospital New Jersey Rahway and at Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital (RWJUH) Rahway.

In the process, he formed bonds with rehabilitation therapists that will last a lifetime. “I love everybody in this organization,” says Camilo, a surveyor, field inspector and married father of three children. “I feel like they are family.”

First Steps

In late May 2021, Camilo received his first COVID-19 vaccination shot. Before the vaccine could offer its protection—which takes two weeks after a person is fully vaccinated—he began to develop symptoms. When they escalated, he went to his doctor and tested positive.

“He sent me home, but the next day I felt worse and had to go to the hospital,” Camilo says. “I felt really bad. I couldn’t breathe, and my oxygen level was 44.” (The normal level is 95 to 100 percent.)

His condition deteriorated, and he ended up on a ventilator for two months. Eventually, he was transferred to Kindred, a 34-bed transitional care hospital on the fourth floor of RWJUH Rahway.

“Jeffrey was very weak when we met him,” recalls Betty Llamos, MS, OTR/L, a member of the RWJUH Rahway rehabilitation team, who worked with Camilo while he was at Kindred and, after his discharge, through the Post-COVID Recovery Program at RWJUH Rahway. “He needed a lot of help even to sit up on the edge of the bed. He also had a lot of joint stiffness from being immobilized for so long.”

“Jeffrey had a tracheotomy and still had oxygen attached to his neck,” says Raynold Saintval, PT, MPT, who is on the RWJUH Rahway physical therapy team. “He couldn’t move his left foot, which had neurological issues.”

Not surprisingly, Camilo was also “angry and sad” at first, Saintval recalls. But his attitude improved when they told him that he would be the one setting the goals and pace for his recovery. “I told him his goals are our goals,” Saintval says. “Anything I can do to make it happen, I will do.”

“Rehabilitation always has to be patient-centered,” Llamos agrees.

Road to Recovery

Camilo’s long-term goals were to get home to be with his family and to drive his prized truck. But first, it took both occupational therapist and physical therapist working together just to get him sitting up in bed.

At that early point, occupational and physical therapists like Llamos and Saintval often work as a team. “We help the patient with a lot of exercise, standing with the walker, two people at first, then one person,” Saintval says.

As Camilo progressed, Llamos and Saintval branched off into their specialized tasks: physical therapy for strength and ambulation, occupational therapy to perform the everyday tasks of life.

“If you think about a normal day, what does a person do?” Llamos explains. “They have to be able to get out of bed, walk to the bathroom, take care of their morning hygiene and grooming. They have to get back to performing all their self-care activities.” In addition to state-of-the-art exercise equipment, the rehabilitation facility at RWJUH Rahway includes a bathroom, kitchen and other home amenities for patients to work with.

“It was very hard when I did the therapies to walk,” Camilo says. “At first, four to five minutes was too much for me. Everything was difficult. But little by little, it was a half hour, then 45 minutes. It was positive every time.”

“You develop a therapeutic relationship,” Llamos says. “The poor guy had already been through so much. All he wanted to do was go home and play with his kids.”

“Betty was very, very patient with me,” Camilo says. “There was a connection because we both speak Spanish. She pushed me all the time to do more. She was really good for me.”

“He worked hard for every achievement he made,” Saintval says. “COVID really put a beating on him. He had big hurdles to overcome.”

The therapists also worked with Camilo’s wife, Glenis, to make her part of the recovery team. “We did some family training and showed her everything they would need to do at home,” Llamos says.

“Jeffrey’s reaction, when he shook my hand and hugged me, and his wife thanked me—this is why I’m here,” says Saintval, who has practiced physical therapy for 20 years. “I love this part of the job, especially achieving those goals. It was a very big pleasure.”

Camilo’s COVID-related challenges continue, including therapy for his hands after undergoing surgery in November for the contractures. If all goes well, his doctors hope he can go back to work this spring.

“I recommend this hospital,” Camilo says. “It is very, very good.”

To learn more about the Post-COVID Recovery Program and about physical and occupational therapy at RWJUH Rahway, call 732-499-6012.