Occupational therapist teaches NYC coronavirus survivors how to walk, talk again

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Most coronavirus patients put on ventilators do not survive. For those that do, Maura Regan is there to guide them through the long and difficult journey to recovery.

Regan, 28, is an acute care occupational therapist at NYU Langone’s Rusk Rehabilitation who went from having a full caseload of neurological patients to treating COVID-19 recoverees when the pandemic hit.

The illness, which can take over a month to recover from, sometimes leaves patients unable to walk, talk and care for themselves. Some don’t even know what month it is, she said.

“A lot of the patients that I’ve been seeing in the ICU have delirium once they’re more alert, and they also have very profound generalized weakness in their arms, their legs, their necks, all the muscles you can think of,” Regan told The Post.

“It’s very easy [for healthy people] to get up out of bed, go to the bathroom, brush your teeth, get dressed, but for someone who’s recovering from COVID, that requires a lot of their energy and they might feel extremely fatigued after doing those basic tasks.”

Regan’s work is painstaking. She teaches patients how to hold a spoon, how to groom themselves and how to communicate. It can take many sessions before they’re able to be discharged.

When patients first come off of ventilators and are suffering from delirium, the work is particularly difficult, she said.

“They’re usually disoriented, they have trouble following commands … a lot of my patients have also been confused as to why their husband or wife isn’t there with them or their kids are not there with them and they ask for their family a lot,” Regan recalled.

Maura Regan
Maura ReganBrian Zak/NY Post

“Reorienting them to where they are, what is going on, what the date is, you know, because for some of them who have been sedated for an extended period of time, they might still think it’s April so it’s definitely very disorienting when they start to be more alert.”

Regan encourages her patients to participate in their own self-care, instead of having a nurse do everything, which is helpful in decreasing delirium and giving them a “sense of normalcy.”

She recounted a “particularly amazing moment” with a patient in his 70s who was having serious trouble after being on a ventilator for “maybe a month or longer” and had been delirious for “days and days and days.”

“He was finally able to learn how to use the alphabet board to start kind of communicating. One day I was working with him and I figured out that he likes Frank Sinatra music. So, you know, they have little tablets in their room, and I pulled up the radio, and I put on Frank Sinatra,” Regan said.

“We just started dancing. He can barely move, but he started moving his arms and we were just dancing to Frank Sinatra. We were both laughing,” she added. “It was amazing after how sick he had been.”

The man was recently discharged to a rehab facility — and Regan said moments like that keep her pushing through the difficult work.

“When you’ve been working on one specific task or goal with somebody for multiple sessions over multiple days, and then you finally have that session where they’re able to meet the goal that you both had set or they’re able to accomplish the task that had been taking them a week to work up to, it’s such a joyful moment,” Regan said.

Do you have a nominee for The Post’s Hero of the Day? E-mail heroes@nypost.com.

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