A Strong Bond Between Patient and Physical Therapist

November 27, 2019

After being diagnosed with uterine cancer in 2018, Debbie Petrucelli turned to John Theurer Cancer Center for her treatment. Under the care of a “compassionate, innovative and creative team” of doctors, including gynecologic oncologist Mira Hellmann, M.D., medical oncologist Donna McNamara, M.D., and radiation oncologist Loren Godfrey, M.D., she was soon declared free of cancer. Following the treatment, though, Debbie had lingering, painful neuropathy, particularly in her right leg, that made it difficult for her to walk, drive and do other basic things.

Committed to getting better, she entered JFK Johnson Rehabilitation Institute in March for physical therapy, but she could have never guessed the strong bond she would form with her physical therapist, Alissa Rocco.

“Physical therapy is not a ‘one and done,’” says Debbie, who works at Raritan Bay Medical Center as a manager in the Office of Patient Experience. “We had 16 intense therapy sessions, and Alissa focused on a positive attitude and helped bring that out in me. She was so genuinely interested in hearing my story and in understanding what my goals were.”

Alissa paid attention to not just Debbie’s physical well-being, but also her emotional well-being. During one visit when Debbie was having an especially tough time, Alissa brought her to a private room where they could do some less impactful therapies such as massage.

“During some of our visits she was undergoing radiation therapy, and I could tell that she wasn’t feeling well, but she still had an amazing perspective on the situation,” says Alissa. “It made me appreciate what I do a whole lot more because I saw someone going through so much medically and physically and still coming in. It made me feel like what I was doing was making a difference.”

Their bond was so strong by the end of Debbie’s treatment that she presented Alissa with a gift to show her gratitude.

“I wanted her to open it as a treasure box, because she was a treasure to me,” says Debbie. “There was a personal note inside and some gifts that related to things we talked about during our sessions.”

Alissa was surprised by Debbie’s gift, and it helped her remember why she chose to be a physical therapist.

“I was overjoyed. I know it will help remind me of why I do what I do and the impact our work can have,” says Alissa.

Tell us about a team member at Hackensack Meridian Health who made all the difference in your care.

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