Kelly’s therapists from left to right: Stacey Irek, OT, Steven Desaulniers, PT, and Laura Beard, SLP. Kelly’s therapists from left to right: Stacey Irek, OT, Steven Desaulniers, PT, and Laura Beard, SLP.

Like many others, you may have caught this video of our patient Kelly Downing, who received months of therapy at Kindred Greenbriar for chronic Lyme disease. Kelly’s emotional story went viral on the Kindred Healthcare Facebook page, garnering 40,000+ likes and more than 95,000 YouTube views to date.

The video also grabbed the attention of Katie Couric’s daytime show, the Katie Show. Physicians and news outlets alike are increasingly recognizing the prevalence of Lyme disease. In fact, The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently stated that Lyme disease infects 10 times more Americans than was previously reported. We at Kindred Healthcare were thrilled when Couric invited our patient Kelly to share her story on the Katie Show, where Couric educated her audience about Lyme disease symptoms and treatment. For the full story about Kelly’s journey and care, visit Kindred’s blog, The Kindred Continuum.

The video did not mention speech-language pathology, but as Kelly regained her motor coordination, she unexpectedly presented with a need for speech therapy. It seemed that her brain “short circuited,” and the cognitive multitasking required from combining physical movement and speaking proved difficult.

We caught up with Laura Beard, Kelly’s speech-language pathologist, to learn more about the speech therapy Kelly received and provide the full story:

Q. How, specifically, was Kelly’s speech affected by Lyme disease?

A. There is a small area of research related to swallowing disorders from Lyme complications, but Kelly did not present with those symptoms. Kelly’s particular situation sent me to books and mentors, researching. When Kelly was seated in her wheelchair, she was able to rattle off information that is automatic – the alphabet, days of the week, her social security number, etc. But she could not easily speak this information when she stood or held someone’s hand. She had to squeeze her eyes shut and sort of force the words out. My colleagues and I suspected that the problem arose with the combined task of maintaining an upright position and using language.

Q. What was the biggest challenge you faced in treating Kelly?

A. The biggest challenge was that there was no protocol to follow. There was no patient like her. We also had to make some adaptations to accommodate her sensitivity to light, writing difficulty and distractibility. But Kelly was game for all of my tasks.

Q. Is it possible that Kelly will continue to run into speech issues in the future? Do you know how long she can expect to maintain gains from her speech therapy?

A. It is always possible that she will run into problems and changes in the future, especially as her medications and symptoms change. As therapists we aim to promote the highest level of functional independence for each patient, and we implement compensatory strategies. We introduced systems to allow her to communicate more easily and with less distractions so that she may be successful.

Q. We all learned from the video that Kelly’s attitude played a huge role in her recovery. Can you speak to how her outlook impacted the results of her therapy?

A. Kelly’s outlook was a major component to her success. Kelly was hard working. She was willing to be upfront and forthcoming about her deficits and symptoms. She was also able to laugh at herself. Her attitude played a big role.

Kelly’s therapists from left to right: Stacey Irek, OT, Steven Desaulniers, PT, and Laura Beard, SLP.

By Kindred Hospital Rehabilitation Services