Putting Harriet Together Again

In the blink of an eye, Harriet Power, an active professional theatre director and Villanova University theatre professor, found herself facing a reality far from what she’d ever expected. Just days before, Harriet’s days were packed with theatre work, yoga, kayaking, and hiking – but these activities suddenly seemed impossible after a life-changing accident.

When Harriet and her husband Robert set off on a vacation to Puerto Rico in December of 2014, she had no idea that it would impact the rest of her life. While walking to dinner one evening, a speeding motorcyclist struck both Harriet and her husband, shattering not only their bodies but all sense of normalcy. The trauma was so severe that both were medevac-ed to the University of Pennsylvania Hospital four days later. Robert suffered multiple fractures and a concussion, while Harriet had multiple pelvis fractures and severe injuries to both shoulders.

Dr. Samir Mehta, Chief of Division of Orthopaedic Trauma, inserted an anterior pelvic fixation and various screws into Harriet’s pelvis to stabilize the fractures and allow the bones to heal. Without warning, Harriet found herself facing a reality far from what she’d ever imagined.

 “Suddenly, I had a broken body that was unable to do the things that made up my life. It was as if I’d been flung off the planet and onto another one with an entirely different atmosphere,” explains Harriet. “Everything had become so unfamiliar that even framing a question about what was happening felt difficult.”

Two days after her surgery, Harriet began the road to recovery with the help of the acute therapy team. Although even the simplest activity such as being lifted from the bed to sit up felt impossible, it was the first step to recovery.

“Having the acute therapists work with me to figure out how to sit in a chair again made a huge impact,” said Harriet. “An hour of sitting rather than lying immobile in bed made me feel like a person again. Regaining even the slightest bit of function was liberating.”

For the next phase of Harriet’s recovery, she continued her recovery through inpatient rehabilitation at Penn Rehab. With daily three-hour sessions of intensive physical and occupational therapy, Harriet continued to make strides in her mobility while being mindful of the limitations of her healing fractures.

After three weeks at Penn Rehab, Harriet was discharged to her home in a wheelchair and continued her recovery through home care. Within a month, she was ready to continue her recovery at Penn Therapy & Fitness Bala Cynwyd. Outpatient physical therapy would allow Harriet to continue the momentum of her progress.

Kira Sender, PT, DPT started to work with Harriet, creating a treatment plan that would realize her goals of a complete return to function, flexibility, and the activities and work she loved.

“All of our patients are initially limited in some way when they come to us for treatment from an illness or injury. When Harriet first came to Rasansky, she had no functional movement of her arms, was dependent on a walker, and was healing from a fractured pelvis,” says Kira. “As a physical therapist, my role is to help my patients to regain what they have lost. In Harriet’s case, it was finding out how to return her to her passions of an active lifestyle.”

During her physical therapy treatments, Harriet learned how to regain independence and became empowered to make adaptations to activities affected by her injury. By having a solid understanding of her condition, the logic behind the prescribed treatment allowed Harriet to be an active participant in the recovery process.

“I think that patient education is one of the biggest things a physical therapist can offer during treatment,” says Kira. “Explaining the mechanics of the body, the goals associated for each exercise and the importance behind the mechanics of each technique was crucial in Harriet having a clear understanding of her healing.”

After several weeks of physical therapy with little progression in her functional arm movement, Harriet discovered that, in addition to her fractures, the accident had left her with five torn rotor cuffs in her shoulders. Kira explained to Harriet the impact of having extensive shoulder damage, and how their treatment plan would require new ways of doing certain activities.

“Once we learned about the torn rotator cuffs, I explained the difficulties associated with the injuries and how it would make returning to activities like yoga and kayaking very difficult. At that point in time she was barely able to raise her arms, and doing the exercises was painful,” says Kira. “I didn’t tell her that it would be impossible, but that in order to do so we would have to strengthen other muscles to compensate for the instability of her shoulder joint.”

Soon, Harriet was able to continue her progress both inside and outside of her therapy sessions, reproducing her exercises at home without machinery. After three months of weekly physical therapy sessions with Kira, Harriet found herself returning to what she loved to do  -- just in a different way.

“Less than a year after the accident I’ve been able to return to work, yoga, running and kayaking. With what I learned during physical therapy, I understand exactly what I have to do keep my shoulders stabilized to avoid injury,” shares Harriet. “Modifications on how to pick up something or doing a certain yoga pose a bit differently allows me to avoid putting pressure in the damaged areas and utilize the muscles we strengthened to compensate.”

No longer sidelined from her high-octane life, Harriet credits her recovery to their personalized, compassionate care provided by Dr. Mehta and Kira during her darkest hour.

“The personal investment and enthusiasm of a physical therapist is important from a patient perspective. Kira brought that to each session, along with her clinical expertise.”