With support and encouragement from Karl Burris, PT, DPT, of Live Life Physiotherapy and regular physical therapy sessions, Bernadette Gonzalez has overcome a lifetime of challenges – allowing her to live in the present and not fear the future.
Bernadette “Bernie” Gonzalez is a woman who’s faced many challenges.
At a young age, Bernie was diagnosed with Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease (CMT), a hereditary muscle nerve disorder. People with CMT often develop smaller, weaker muscles, have difficulty walking, and often experience loss of sensation in their arms and legs. While it was a condition she had had most of her life, she began using orthotics.
In 2013, her husband of 51 years passed away. Soon after, she had two knee replacement surgeries. A few years later, Bernie was diagnosed with breast cancer, underwent surgery and chemotherapy, and returned home to discover a leak that required her to move to a motel for three months. Complications from the chemotherapy drugs and severe neuropathies weakened her even more, causing her to stop driving. And it was early 2020 – right as the world was closing down.
She found herself at a new home – a retirement community in Santee – and was determined to embrace this new beginning.
Comfort from the beginning
However, just two weeks after she moved in, a fall in the middle of the night shook Bernie’s world – making her realize this was not the new start she had imagined.
“The next morning, I went to an exercise class, with my jarred shoulder and arm and my back hurting from my fall, determined to feel better,” she remembers.
Fortunately, Karl Burris, a physical therapist with Live Life Physiotherapy, was leading that class.
“When we were talking, I told him about my fall and he said physical therapy could help. I told him I couldn’t drive, and that’s when he told me that he owned a mobile physical therapy clinic in Santee, so he could come to me,” Bernie recalls.
Karl remembers that first class, too. “Bernie’s kindness and enthusiasm for living was evident,” he says. “Physically, I noticed her rigid orthotics and it looked like she wasn’t very confident on her feet. I knew I could help her.”
With nothing to lose and everything to gain, Bernie began her mobile physical therapy services the next week.
Bernie was not a stranger to physical therapy, and so she was expecting Karl would arrive, tell her what strengthening exercises to do and she would do them and that would be that.
“But when he came in, he asked if there was anything weighing on me emotionally, and I was taken aback. He explained that everything has an effect on your progress. I could tell then that he really cared about me as a person, and that brought me comfort from the beginning.”
Small steps beyond her comfort zone
Karl and Bernie began their physical therapy sessions by working on strengthening her arm. Karl used deep tissue massage, thera-bands, kettlebells, and other strengthening exercises to increase Bernie’s strength and stamina.
Over their time together, Bernie opened up about other areas that caused her pain and discomfort: an elevated diaphragm made breathing difficult; chemotherapy aggravated her CMT and caused more neuropathy, which made her rely on a cane; and her decade-old orthotics were limiting her mobility. And all of this caused her to be nervous and anxious about trying new things.
“Karl is so easy to talk to – such a supportive listener,” Bernie says. And so, as Karl regularly updated her physical therapy regimen – bringing in exercises that could help with fall prevention, back pain, and neuropathy, he also provided emotional support.
Bernie could feel herself changing thanks to physical therapy. Her physical strength was increasing, and so was her emotional fortitude and positive attitude. Over time, Bernie began conquering many of her deep-seated fears – challenging herself and stepping out of her comfort zone.
Going above and beyond
One area that Karl noticed early on was that Bernie’s leg orthotics were causing her more problems than helping her. He asked if she was open to trying a different kind of orthotic that would feel more natural, and she was excited to try it.
“He was so thoughtful and proactive,” she recalls. “With my permission, he called my doctor and reviewed everything we were working on together. He asked if I could be fitted with lighter weight orthotics – and then he went with me to the doctor’s office to make sure they fit right.”
“Who does that? No physical therapist I’ve ever known,” she says.
Today, a physical therapy graduate
For three years, Bernie kept up her regular physical therapy sessions with Karl, in the comfort of her own home. She says that he kept her on track, both physically and emotionally. Today, Bernie feels like a new person.
“I went from being terrified to being a person with confidence. I can walk around the hallway with my hiking sticks – and I’ve even conquered a few hills – and I ride a pedal bike 4 times a week for 40 minutes now,” Bernie says proudly.
“My kids can see I’m more confident – they notice my increased stamina and energy. And I’m giving other things a try that I never would have done before, like signing up for art classes. It’s been a true transformation.”
Karl agrees with Bernie’s assessment. ”Her confidence has skyrocketed. Although she will continue to require a walker due to her impairments, she walks with a lot more stability,” he says. “And even more, Bernie has fully embraced the belief that she can get better one day at a time. I’m excited for her future.”
“I’ll always have challenges,” Bernie explains. “But I don’t allow them to control me or what I do anymore. And that’s because of Live Life Physiotherapy and Karl – he helped me believe that I could do things I didn’t think I was physically capable of. He pushed me beyond my fears.”
About Live Life Physiotherapy
Live Life Physiotherapy provides customized mobile physical therapy in San Diego to those who need it, where they need it. Every day, we help residents of La Mesa, El Cajon, Santee, Lakeside, Del Cerro, San Carlos, and the surrounding areas with their physical therapy needs by removing many of the common restrictions and challenges of traditional physical therapy. Our ultimate goal is to help you live your best life.