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Barbara Brush: An Inspiration to Others

 Barbara BrushBarbara has spent most of her life caring for others. A nurse for 28 years, Barbara has helped care for patients with many health issues. As clinical nurse specialist for 6 years she specialized in diabetes, but after undergoing knee and ankle surgery at Miami Valley Hospital, she now cares for patients like herself.

“I know how good the surgeons are who worked for me,” says Barbara. “I have truly fallen in love with the job that I do because I know what a difference it makes in their lives – and I know what a difference it made in mine.”

 The Genetic Lottery

Barbara jokes that she drew the short straw with genetics. “When my angel put me together in Heaven, she was having an off day,” Barbara laughs.

Both of her parents suffered from significant arthritis problems, and so did Barbara. Being overweight and pounding the halls of Miami Valley Hospital caring for her patients, time took a toll on her ankles and knee. Her ankles began collapsing to the point that she was walking on the inside of both feet.

“I couldn’t do anything,” says Barbara. “I would get through work, but then I would be in so much pain that when I got home, I would just sit on the couch and not do anything.” The pain became so bad – and it became so difficult to walk - Barbara stopped doing all of her favorite activities, including walking her dogs and going on camping trips. She even started to plan her retirement. “I was going to have to leave nursing, which I didn’t want to do.”

Then, in 2010, Barbara knew she couldn’t wait any longer. She met with Matthew Lawless, MD and planned knee replacement surgery for her right knee. She then underwent triple arthrodesis surgery on her left ankle performed by Richard Laughlin, MD, followed by the right ankle a year later. (Triple arthrodesis is a procedure that surgically fuses the joints in the foot to relieve arthritis pain or correct structural issues.)

“He (Dr. Laughlin) patted me on the shoulder and said that I’m a star patient,” Barbara recalls. “I looked at him and said, ‘Well, I had a star surgeon.’”

The surgical team took their time and explained everything to Barbara, so that she was confident and prepared before undergoing her first surgery. “They are very personable,” Barbara says. “It’s important that they [the surgeons] have staff you can get along with and they do.”

First Steps

The physical therapists at Miami Valley Hospital work hand in hand with the surgeons. Therapy is critical for teaching you how to get around the house and how to take care of daily activities when you’re not walking. “The PT and OT have helped me a lot over the last couple of years,” says Barbara. “I am in awe of what they do.”

Knowing the benefits of therapy, Barbara uses her knowledge and experience to help prepare her own patients. She lets them know what a huge role therapy will play in their life – and how critical it is to their recovery. “You have to pace yourself back into it [movement],” says Barbara.

Teaching through Sharing

As part of her newest role as a clinical nurse specialist in orthopedics, Barbara now teaches the Total Joint Class at Miami Valley Hospital.

“I learned both on the patient side and the clinical side. Now I teach a class and I share with them [the patients] my story,” says Barbara. “I think it’s reassuring to them when I bend and flex my knee to show them what their life will be like afterward.”

When you care for an orthopedic patient, you’re looking at more than just their bones. “You also have to make sure that all of their other health issues, such as diabetes or being overweight, are cared for as well,” says Barbara.

Time to Dance

Today, Barbara is looking forward to the future – and she’s back to planning things. She now walks her dogs, and instead of retiring, Barbara wants to work another 12 years. She’s even jigging to Just Dance II on the Wii. “I don’t have any grace. It was hysterically funny,” Barbara recalls of her latest dance moves.

Barbara and her husband Terry are also planning a trip to the beach with their family. “People who see me now can’t believe the difference!” In fact, while on a recent shopping trip, her niece asked her to slow down.

Barbara’s newfound movement – and zest for life – even shows in the halls of Miami Valley Hospital. “Now I bebop down the hall,” says Barbara. “I don’t walk down the hall, I bebop down the hall.”

Advice for Future Patients

Barbara offers these tips to those who are considering knee and ankle surgery:

  • Ask any and every question you can think of
  • Have faith in yourself that you can do what will be asked of you
  • Always follow the advice your surgeon gives you
  • Look forward to the future and how easy it will be to get around

Barbara also credits her husband, Terry, for being a source of strength and inspiration through her journey. “I have the best man that God ever put on this earth,” says Barbara. “He’s my rock.”