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WellSpan BrightSpot: Jumping in a pool to help a patient find joy 

August 26, 2022

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WellSpan physical therapist Deena Yuncker works with Todd Stiles in a pool, to provide exercise and bring him joy.

WellSpan physical therapist Deena Yuncker works with Todd Stiles in a pool, to provide exercise and bring him joy.

Who: Deena Yuncker, a physical therapist with WellSpan VNA Home Care; and Todd Stiles, 57, an East Berlin accident victim. 

What: Todd was in a one-car accident on an icy road in Feb. 2, 2021. He suffered a traumatic brain injury, broken collar bone, broken neck, and broken ribs. He was in a coma for 22 days at WellSpan York Hospital and in a rehabilitation hospital for four months after that. Deena started providing him with physical therapy at his home in July 2021. 

When he first came home, Todd could not walk without help from two people, could not use stairs, or do much independently. After help from Deena and support from his family, who helps him exercise and follows Deena’s directions, he now walks independently, uses steps, dresses himself, makes himself a simple breakfast, and does other things. His wife, Cris, called him “a miracle.” 

Todd’s family enjoys going to their friends’ house to swim in their pool. So, Deena put on her swimsuit and met him at the pool and has done sessions with him there, not only so he can benefit from aquatic therapy but also – and this is vital to her and to his loved ones – enjoy his family, including his 2-year-old granddaughter, Tiegan, who loves being in the water. 

“His face just lit up,” Deena says. “He stayed in the pool for 45 minutes. He did exercises. He walked back and forth. He was just beaming from ear to ear the entire time. He couldn’t stop smiling.” 

Cris says, “Deena is amazing. She always has something different for him to do,” including even swinging a golf club. “Todd was a big golfer. That was all Deena’s idea. She wanted him to feel like one day he might be able to do the things he loved.” 

Todd says, “Deena is the best. She’s really good. I like her a lot.” 

Words to live by: Deena has a surprising background. She suffered a stroke, caused by a hole in her heart, in 2008, when she was just 38 years old. Now 52, she has been diagnosed with Lou Gehrig’s disease, or amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, a progressive neurodegenerative disease that affects nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord. 

“My patients give me strength and perspective,” Deena says. “The joy I receive from helping others through their challenges and watching them achieve their goals are what drive me to do more for them.” 

“I have a special place in my heart for brain injury patients, and any patient with a disability. There is so much we don’t understand about the brain. This is what I told Todd. I struggled with walking, talking, and thinking. I know what that feels like. But look where I am now. If you believe it, you can achieve it. Get busy living or get busy dying.”