Joanna Vincent

Rehab patient battles rare disease, fights for functional mobility

Joanna Vincent came home from a trip to the library with her youngest son and took a nap. When she woke up a while later, her right leg was tingling and she had trouble walking. Vincent assumed she had slept on it wrong and went about her day. By the next morning, however, the tingling sensation spread to her arms and hands.

That evening, Vincent started getting pain in her back and neck. Her husband took her to the emergency room at a hospital near their home in Fairburn, Ga. Doctors ordered X-rays but couldn't find anything wrong, so they sent her home with a painkiller and referred her to a neurologist.

The mystery illness worsens

The neurologist Vincent visited didn't have any answers but she was given cortisone shots to help ease the pain. When Vincent didn't see any improvement over the next week and the pain began to get much worse, Vincent returned to the neurologist.

The neurologist suggested Vincent be admitted to the hospital immediately and referred her to Dr. Ernesto Fernandez, a neurologist at Southern Regional Medical Center. Fernandez diagnosed Vincent with a rare form of Multiple Sclerosis, a chronic and often disabling disease that attacks the central nervous system.

Over the next several months, Vincent was extremely sick and spent most of her time in the hospital. The disease made it impossible for her to walk and even breathe at times. Vincent often had company and her husband visited daily but she spent the winter holidays in the hospital.

A Passion for Healing

Vincent relied on Dr. Fernandez and the support of his team for much during her stay.

"He was so personable, patient and genuinely kind," Vincent said. "He took time to explain things and he never made meu feel like I was just another chart or another patient in the building."

That's why, when it came time for Vincent to choose a hospital for outpatient physical therapy, she picked Southern Regional - so Dr. Fernandez could follow up on her care. Since March, Vincent has participated in physical and occupational therapy, helping her develop skills like standing, walking, using stairs and taking care of personal needs on her own.

When Vincent started rehabilitation at Southern Regional, she could barely move her arms. Now, she has a much greater range of motion, better strength and more coordination. She also is able to use a walker to move around her home. At age 39, Vincent never expected to have others taking care of her but she is grateful for the progress she has made and credits her therapists with much of her success.

"They push me, but at the same time they are patient with me," Vincent said. "When they ask me to try something new, I know they believe I can do it, so I feel safe trying it. Recently, my occupational therapist sat down and handed me a hot curling iron. She wanted me to curl her hair. I was terrified but she didn't even flinch. She believed I could do it."