Post-COVID Rehabilitation Helps Motorcyclist Get His Recovery on Track
January 12, 2022
Wildwood resident receives expert outpatient care for nerve injury, weakness and lung problems after severe case of COVID-19
Brian Kreger, 69, of Wildwood, New Jersey, is a lifelong motorcyclist and advanced rider — popping “legendary” wheelies, wearing a protective jacket identifying him as “Grandpa” and being among the fastest at the track. But in July 2020, while Brian was receiving care at an inpatient rehabilitation facility in Virginia after a motorcycle accident, he contracted COVID-19 — resulting in a two-month hospital stay where he received dialysis for kidney failure and extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO) for respiratory failure.
“I’m fortunate to be here,” says Brian. “I remember being told I had COVID, but I don’t remember anything after that.”
On the Road to Recovery
After being discharged from the hospital and returning to New Jersey to complete a month of inpatient rehabilitation, ongoing weakness and lung problems prevented Brian from being able to navigate the 30+ stairs to enter his Wildwood home. That’s when Brian knew he was going to need additional help with his recovery.
“I was weak because I had literally been on my back from the end of June until the end of September,” says Brian. “I still couldn’t stand; I was walking with a walker, and I got out of breath easily.”
While looking at an issue of Hackensack Meridian Health’s magazine, HealthU, Brian saw a story about Ernesto Averia’s COVID-19 journey — which was remarkably similar to Brian’s experience. As a result, Brian decided to seek outpatient care from the specialists at JFK Johnson Rehabilitation Institute’s Post-COVID Recovery Center Rehabilitation Program, who also provided Ernesto’s rehabilitation care.
“[Brian] sought us out because he was experiencing a lot of instability and weakness in his left leg and knee that caused him to fall several times,” says Ofure Luke, M.D., a physical medicine and rehabilitation specialist at the Post-COVID Recovery Center.
Dr. Luke says when she first met Brian in November 2020, he was using a walker, relied on a wheelchair for longer distances and was still experiencing shortness of breath. He also had pronounced weakness in his hands with a substantial loss of strength.
“We are finding that quite a few patients have a specific type of nerve involvement after a prolonged hospital stay for severe COVID-19,” says Dr. Luke. “However, we’re not sure if this is due to COVID-19 infection or the lengthy hospitalization.”
Regaining Strength and Stability
Dr. Luke coordinated Brian’s care, including sending him to pulmonary rehabilitation to improve his lung health and connecting him with physical and occupational therapists who are well-versed in helping patients recovering from COVID to regain strength and stability.
Dr. Luke also referred Brian to David P. Brown, D.O., medical director of Electrodiagnostics and Sports Medicine at JFK Johnson Rehabilitation Institute. After performing electromyography (EMG) and nerve conduction velocity (NCV) tests in December 2020, Dr. Brown diagnosed Brian with a left femoral nerve injury caused by COVID.
“The testing showed Brian had very few motor neurons firing in his quadriceps muscles, which indicated that he had severe left femoral neuropathy,” says Dr. Brown. “We needed to keep an eye on Brian to make sure the nerve was coming back.”
In addition to receiving ongoing physical and occupational therapy, Dr. Brown recommended that Brian work with Heikki Uustal, M.D., a physical medicine and rehabilitation physician who specializes in prosthetics and orthotics, to receive a leg brace to help with stability.
By March 2021, repeat testing with Dr. Brown showed improvement in the number of motor neurons firing in Brian’s quadriceps. In June 2021, Brian’s leg strength was improving.
“We could tell the nerve was starting to come back, but the process can take many months,” says Dr. Brown.
Riding into the Sunset
Although Brian is not yet at 100 percent, he has come a long way. He has to be careful when walking downhill or down the stairs, but he can do almost all of his everyday activities.
“Although the medical team provides support, the patient plays a key role in their recovery,” says Dr. Luke. “Brian was extremely motivated to do the work, and he was a pleasure to work with.”
“The whole experience was a lesson in perseverance, because I wasn’t about to give up,” says Brian, who expressed his gratitude for all of the doctors, therapists and team members who helped him during his recovery.
Since his accident, Brian has had to give up the wheelies — but he’s learning to move on and reset his priorities. Although Brian remains enthusiastic about motorcycles, he says he’s now focusing on his three kids, three grandkids, and his loving wife, “to whom [he owes] literally everything.”
And Brian says he hopes sharing his story will encourage and guide others through their post-COVID recovery, just as Ernesto’s story encouraged and guided him.
“To quote my father’s dying words, ‘I’ve had a good run’,” says Brian. “Mine is not over yet — but what a joy it is being able to say that now.”
Next Steps & Resources:
- Meet our Experts: Ofure Luke, M.D., David P. Brown, D.O., and Heikki Uustal, M.D.
- To make an appointment with one of these experts or a doctor near you, call 800-822-8905 or visit our website.
- Learn about Hackensack Meridian Health’s COVID Recovery Center.
The material provided through HealthU is intended to be used as general information only and should not replace the advice of your physician. Always consult your physician for individual care.
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