Warren S Rehab in Toms River Helps Man Make a Comeback After COVID

Rehabilitation at Community Medical Center helped one man return to work after battling coronavirus. Learn more about COVID recovery and rehabilitation

When Warren Sias of Toms River developed a cough in early March 2020, he thought it was just a bad cold. But his symptoms worsened. Eventually, his doctor prescribed antibiotics, then corticosteroids. One day, he found himself so weak and out of breath that he had to stop and rest in a hallway when taking the few steps between his bed and the bathroom. “It just got worse and worse,” says Warren, 43, who is a heavy equipment operator at an asphalt company. “I ended up calling the ambulance that night.”

It turned out Warren was experiencing COVID-19 symptoms. Just days later, he was put on a ventilator at Community Medical Center (CMC). He remembers little of the nine days that he was sedated, aside from some strange and confusing dreams. But his health care team told him that at one point he spiked a fever of 107 degrees. “They didn’t think I was going to make it,” says Warren.

Against all odds, Warren pulled through. After the nurses took him off the ventilator, CT scans showed that he had suffered two strokes, one that affected his motor control. After physical, occupational and speech therapy in the hospital, he was sent to a rehabilitation facility for several weeks.

Warren learned to walk again, but his rehabilitation was far from complete. He couldn’t shave, cut his food with a knife or grab a bar of soap in the shower with his right hand. “After I got home, I wanted to keep getting better, but I wasn’t,” he says. “I couldn’t work my right hand well, and I couldn’t grab something unless I was looking at it.”

But Warren was determined to return to his job. “If I’m running a machine like an excavator with a joystick, I can’t be looking at my hand,” he says. “I have to look at what the machine is doing.”

The Road to Recovery

Warren continued therapy as an outpatient at CMC’s Rehabilitation Services Department. The hard work of recovery began in September 2020, when occupational therapist Genelle Gundersen, OTR/L, devised a series of activities to help him overcome the effects of the strokes, including loss of strength and coordination.

A key problem was the loss of proprioception—the ability to sense where you are in space and be aware of your movements. “He couldn’t use his peripheral vision to pick anything up,” says Gundersen. “He didn’t really know where his arm was in space without visual cues if he wasn’t looking.”

In the twice-weekly sessions, Warren practiced exercises to improve his fine motor skills so he could use his right hand and arm better. He also played video games to improve his hand-eye coordination and moved cones while his eyes were closed to hone his ability to do something without looking at it.

“When you have a stroke, sometimes pathways in the brain die,” Gundersen explains. “You have to rewire the brain to make a new pathway so the patient is able to do the same task in a different way.”

Back to Work

Warren not only worked hard during the 45-minute sessions, but he practiced the exercises at home religiously. “I wasn’t ready to quit and sit at home,” he says. “I’ve got 20 more years of work left. I’m not giving up yet.”

“I give patients tools, but if they’re not doing the exercises at home, they won’t see an improvement,” says Gundersen. “Every single time I saw Warren, he made an improvement. I’d tell him to do heavy work with his right arm, and at the next session, he’d tell me he had waxed his whole car with his right arm.”

Warren remembers one particular victory: being able to put his cell phone in his pocket. “One day it just clicked,” he says. “Things just got better and better. Everything was reconnecting.”

In addition to these exercises, Warren also started eating better, lost weight and began to run to rebuild endurance, a casualty of his COVID-19 battle. “He wants to be as healthy as possible,” says Gundersen.

His recovery continued with support from the CMC rehab team and his friends, family and work colleagues.

On January 14, after a brief trial period to make sure that he could operate the machines, Warren returned to work full-time. “I’m 100 percent back to normal,” he says. “I feel very grateful to the hospital to be where I am.”

To learn more about CMC’s COVID-19 Recovery Program, call (732) 557-8046.