'How am I going to be a mom?'
Quick action by Neurosurgery, Inpatient Rehab gets new mom back to caring for her son
The pain in Amy Stoeger's hips and back was getting worse.
While she'd recently returned to her job as a nurse after maternity leave, Amy suspected the discomfort was more than her body adjusting to working long hours and caring for her son, Simon.
On a Saturday in fall 2019, it became clear that something was seriously wrong. One moment Amy was standing in her kitchen in Wykoff, Minn. The next pain engulfed her. She fainted, waking up on the floor.
"As soon as I stood up, my legs went numb," the 36-year-old says. "There was no more feeling in them."
An MRI showed that Amy had cauda equina syndrome—a rare disorder that occurs from the compression of a bundle of nerves at the base of the spinal cord. Cauda equina syndrome often requires emergency surgery to prevent permanent damage like incontinence and paralysis.
"My doctor said, 'You need to see a neurosurgeon soon,'" Amy recalls.
Amy's primary care provider mentioned Gundersen Health System in La Crosse, Wis. While she'd never received care at Gundersen, the stakes were too high to wait.
Amy and her husband, David, had struggled with infertility for five years. Just four months earlier, they'd finally welcomed Simon into the world after a successful round of in vitro fertilization.
Amy also loved her fast-paced job as a nurse and couldn't imagine doing anything else.
"I was thinking, 'How am I going to be a mom?' How am I going to work?'" Amy says.
A nurse for Amy's doctor called Gundersen. Within 30 minutes, Amy's MRI results were sent to the healthcare system and Amy had an appointment scheduled for the following day with Jason Waddell, DO, Neurosurgery.
"Gundersen saw the severity of my symptoms," Amy says about its quick action.
At her appointment, Dr. Waddell recommended Amy undergo surgery the following morning, arranging for her to be admitted to the hospital that day to help manage her pain and prevent her condition from worsening on the 70-mile commute back to Wykoff or overnight.
"As a nurse, I know that getting worked into a surgical schedule is not easy to do, but Dr. Waddell was able to make me his first patient the next day," Amy says.
She felt relief immediately after the procedure. All of Amy's nerve pain was gone, though she still struggled to lift her left foot due to a damaged nerve. To help correct the issue, Amy's care team recommended Inpatient Rehab—but not before considering what else they could do to help the new mom heal.
"They brought a Pack ‘n Play® to my room," Amy says. "They allowed Simon to stay with me overnight as long as David or another adult was there to help. I didn't have the added stress of worrying about whether my son would remember me after being gone so long or if he would miss me. I could relax and focus on me and my recovery."
Amy's 10 days of rehab were personalized, including having Simon attend many of the sessions. This allowed Amy to learn how to change Simon's diaper and play with him on the floor while abiding by restrictions she needed to follow for recovery.
"They brought Simon's car seat to therapy so we could figure out how I could carry it," Amy says. "Everything was focused on what I needed to be able to do daily."
Months later, Amy still receives outpatient therapy for her foot, but she's back to enjoying so many of the things she loves: rocking Simon to sleep, navigating parenthood with David, caring for her patients, and much, much more.
"If I would have had to wait longer for treatment…" Amy trails off. "Gundersen made it easy for me to get the care I needed. They even accommodated my family to help me heal."