For people who’ve suffered a debilitating injury or illness, self-sufficiency can seem unattainable. Actions that many take for granted, like driving a car, preparing a meal, or even getting out of bed without help, can become difficult — if not impossible.
At the new Scripps Encinitas Rehabilitation Center, patients recovering from orthopedic injury, brain and spinal cord injuries, stroke, amputation and other conditions have access to state-of-the-art technology and highly skilled doctors, therapists and other staff members to aid in their recovery and get them closer to living independently once again.
The new rehab center consolidates outpatient services that were previously scattered around the Scripps Memorial Hospital Encinitas campus and adds innovative therapies and advanced technology that are customized to meet each individual patient’s medical needs and accelerate their recovery.
“Scripps has long been an essential resource in the community for the care of patients whose injuries or illnesses, no matter how severe, have affected their ability to walk, communicate, perform daily activities or function,” says Gregory Sahagian, MD, a neurologist and medical director of Scripps neuroscience service. “This new, innovative center provides patients with access to world-class, comprehensive rehabilitation services right here in San Diego County.”
The new 20,000-square-foot center is equipped with the latest diagnostic and therapeutic equipment, for example a vestibular balance system with immersive virtual reality stimulation for evaluating and treating balance problems and other motion sensitivities. There’s also a ceiling-mounted body-weight support system that lets patients hone their ability to walk, balance and even navigate stairs without the risk of falling.
Patient Mike Freeman knows just how vital advanced technology is to rehabilitation. A fall in early 2020 left him with a fractured vertebra in his neck and paralyzed him from the shoulders down. After 40 days in intensive care and six months working with spinal injury experts out of state, he began to regain some motion. Upon his return to Encinitas, he started occupational and physical therapy, part of which involved using a mounted harness and a robotic exoskeleton to help with walking, balance and weight shifting.
“It takes steps and helps with getting into a normal rhythm walking,” he says. “And because you can walk anywhere, it’s kind of an adventure.”
With the help of his dedicated therapists, Freeman also works his arms and legs on specialized bicycles and does sit-ups, stretches and mat work. He has progressed to the point where he can walk while supporting his own weight and can feed himself, though he still needs help with posture and balance.
“When I was lying in bed in intensive care, and I had all kinds of tubes going in and I was on a ventilator, there was a good chance that's the way I was going to be the rest of my life,” Freeman says. “With the help of these people and a lot of other great people, I’m doing much, much better and I’m very grateful for that. I’m very optimistic about a better future."
The Scripps Encinitas Rehabilitation Center team also uses a driving simulator that measures sensory, cognitive and motor responses to evaluate a patient’s ability to return to the road, and a comprehensive driver assessment program that can include on-road experience in a dual-control vehicle. There’s also a full-scale kitchen and studio apartment where patients can practice basic tasks like cooking, dressing, and getting in and out of bed.
Neurologic injuries often go beyond just motor impairment, for example the inability to move one’s hand, says Dr. Sahagian. Some may not be able to understand where their hand is in relation to the rest of their body, or they may not even be aware of their arm even though it’s still attached.
“Many times, patients who have these neurologic injuries need to be retrained in these activities of daily living so that they're safe,” he says. “Ultimately, the goal is for people to be independent.”
Following rehabilitation, patients have access to a wide range of classes designed to help them maintain functional gains achieved during therapy. Many are provided through partnerships with Scripps MD Anderson Cancer Center and the Scripps Shiley Sports and Fitness Center.
Philanthropy is at the core of healing innovation at the Scripps Encinitas Rehabilitation Center. It was made possible by the LaVerne and Blaine Briggs Rehabilitation Program, which was established by the couple in 2004 to benefit Scripps’ rehabilitation services.
“We’re grateful for their support,” says Dr. Sahagian. “People like LaVerne and Blaine Briggs, through their philanthropy, are helping the whole community.”