Phyllis Standing Tall After Vertigo: Phyllis’ Balance Rehab Story

The hospital got me back on my feet... and enjoying life again.

Phyllis was out for a morning stroll when she suddenly felt as though the world was spinning. “It came out of nowhere,” she recalled. “I started swaying and was so dizzy I couldn’t walk, or even stand.” Alone and afraid, the 69-year old Yardville resident struggled to reach a nearby bench so she could lie down and call for help.

The episode prompted Phyllis to visit an urgent care center, where doctors suspected a common balance disorder that occurs when crystals migrate into the ear canals. However, when initial treatment failed, her primary care physician referred her to specialists at RWJ Hamilton, which provided the advanced expertise and services to restore Phyllis’s balance and quality of life.

Understanding Balance Disorders

Balance disorders, which strike about one in three Americans, are characterized by dizziness, vertigo and other symptoms that cause individuals to feel as though they are moving, spinning or floating when they’re actually still.

According to Dean Drezner, MD, an ear, nose and throat physician at the Center, balance problems are complex and often challenging to diagnose. “Balance can be affected by multiple conditions, including neurologic issues, muscle weakness, vision deficits, medication, even aging,” he asserted. “The majority of cases, however, are related to the inner ear or processing in the brain.” “The balance system, or vestibular system, is like a three-legged stool supported by the ears, eyes, and awareness of one’s body position,” explained audiologist Lorraine Sgarlato, AuD. “If any of those ‘legs’ sends the wrong signal to the brain, balance is compromised.”

For many patients, like Phyllis, balance loss can be debilitating while significantly increasing risk for falls and injury.

Advanced Testing & Treatment

Phyllis found help at RWJ Hamilton, which recently opened a Balance & Hearing Center on the hospital’s campus. Uniquely comprehensive, the program brings together all of the clinicians and resources necessary to accurately diagnose and treat balance and hearing impairments. To start, Phyllis was evaluated by Dr. Drezner, who ordered an MRI, and Dr. Sgarlato, who performed a series of balance-related tests, including videonystagmography (VNG) to measure inner ear function and eye movement. Results uncovered a small, benign tumor in Phyllis’s left ear canal along with vestibular and visual weakness, which were contributing to her symptoms.

“When I got there, I couldn’t even walk down the hallway and started to cry,” said Phyllis. “The staff assured me everything would be okay.” Phyllis’s doctors customized a treatment plan that included eye exercises, balance training, and other therapies under the care of senior physical therapist Ketki Vyas, PT, DPT, who is specially trained in vestibular rehabilitation.

Back on Her Feet

After seven treatment sessions, Phyllis’s vertigo was gone, enabling her to regain her stability and independence. As she continues to build strength, Phyllis looks forward to resuming her fitness routine and the activity she loves most – walking in the park.

“It’s a blessing to have Robert Wood Johnson in my community,” she added. “The hospital got me back on my feet... and enjoying life again.”