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June 06, 2022
Dave Pierson, 73, and his wife Kathy were just ten days away from a celebratory retirement trip to Africa in May 2021 when severe leg pain and discomfort landed Dave in the Veterans Administration (VA) Hospital. Unbeknownst to the couple, they would not be making the trek to Africa, and it would be several weeks before Dave would be back home with his wife in Carson City, their life drastically different than before.
It all happened so fast. After a prompt referral from the VA Hospital to Renown Regional Medical Center, Dave received treatment for a bacteremia infection and underwent emergency spine surgery due to an epidural abscess. However, once his surgeon Edward Perry, MD completed the emergency procedure at Renown Health, Dave learned there was still a long road ahead. He had extremely limited body function and would need to learn to walk again.
Until this emergency spinal cord surgery, Dave had lived an especially healthy life in his retirement, traveling the world with Kathy, taking photographs along the way and attending ball games for their beloved team, the Reno Aces. Dave, a Vietnam veteran, and Kathy planted their roots in Carson City surrounded by countless friends and family, eagerly awaiting Kathy’s retirement.
It was those same friends and family who remained by Dave’s side throughout his recovery process.
At the advice of the Renown team, Dave began a personalized physical rehabilitation plan at Renown Rehabilitation Hospital just days after his initial surgery. It was with the help of Charles Krasner, MD, an Infectious Disease Specialist that Dave made a smooth transition to be cared for at the Rehabilitation Hospital. Dave spent six weeks of inpatient treatment relearning fundamental occupational skills and motor functions such as eating and drinking, getting dressed, using a wheelchair and eventually taking his first steps, aided by a walker.
The couple proudly remembers a day at the Rehabilitation Hospital when Dave successfully buttoned up his shirt using a small apparatus designed to aid in the task. "It was a little thing, but it was a monumental thing," Kathy shared.
Dave achieved physical and cognitive victories, both on a small and large scale, over the next six weeks. Kathy visited every day she could, always prepared with a photo of the couple's past travels to encourage Dave.
The Rehabilitation Hospital staff grew close with the Piersons, sharing stories and photos of their dogs, travels and life. The nurses kept Kathy updated about her husband’s condition and prepared her for the journey to come, this included extensive education related to Dave’s future at-home care.
Benjamin Pence, MD, Dave’s lead rehabilitation doctor and the Director of the Institute for Neurosciences, always seemed to know just how to motivate Dave on his most challenging days. As a ranger in Vietnam, the phrase, “drive on ranger” meant a lot to the veteran when it came to determination and perseverance. So, the phrase was used as encouragement by Dr. Pence and the Rehabilitation Hospital team throughout Dave’s journey, becoming a fond memory about hope and determination during recovery.
Perhaps the most rewarding moment of the entire journey was when Dave took his first steps in August 2021 on his godson's birthday. One month later, in September, Dave received fusion surgery at Renown Regional Medical Center and spent another ten days at the Rehabilitation Hospital. By the time Dave left the Rehabilitation Hospital the second time, he could walk 150 steps! Throughout his two stays at the Rehabilitation Hospital, Dave successfully worked his way up from the hospital bed to a motorized wheelchair, a manual wheelchair, a walker and finally without aid. During a recent visit the couple made to the Rehabilitation Hospital, Dr. Pence exclaimed, “Dave, you’re tall!” unaccustomed to seeing Dave without a manual wheelchair or walker.
Dave's road to recovery has been a challenging year-long battle. However, the couple fondly remembers every person who aided Dave in some way at the Renown Rehabilitation Hospital and Renown Regional Medical Center. "While there were far too many individuals to thank by name, each person on the Renown team made every part of the unpleasant process somehow pleasant, like getting an X-ray," Dave and Kathy recounted.
Equipped with vital tools, equipment and education from the Rehabilitation Hospital and the VA Hospital, Dave continues to accomplish important milestones from the comfort of his own home. Along with countless family and friends, Kathy is still by Dave’s side, helping one Vietnam veteran drive on.
On May 21, 2022, Dave threw the first pitch at the Reno Aces game and stood on the Greater Nevada Field with Dr. Perry and Dr. Pence, as a celebration of how far the team has come.
“The Renown team really became like family. We hope this is a way to say thank you to every person involved in Dave’s recovery,” Kathy said.
Photos courtesy Reno Aces.