Grit and determination – mixed with compassion and care – make a formidable pair.
Oh, and let us not forget a healthy heaping of humor. With each step shared – physically and mentally – laughter surrounds this dynamic duo.
It began – this medical odyssee of Connie Swatek’s – one of life’s true gems – with an ankle fracture 18 years ago.
It would become a medical nightmare.
A wake-up-in-the-middle-of-the night-number, featuring a below-the-knee amputation of the right leg in 2018, followed by an above-the-knee amputation of the same leg in 2021.
Today, though, there is hope, great hope, eternal optimism, and a bond only a patient and physical therapist can truly understand.
And let us not forget humor. There is always humor when Swatek and Rock Valley Physical Therapy’s Kris Marcks (MPT/Regional Manager/Northern Iowa Region) get together.
It must be noted, Marcks checks every box an amazing therapist must check. There is drive, a never-ending dedication to her patients, compassion, care, a 10,000-watt personality and constant push to better the lives of those she serves.
The list goes on.
“I cannot say enough good about her,’’ Swatek, 58, said of Marcks, noting her ever-dedicated therapist is the reason she drives 120 miles round trip to Rock Valley’s West Union, Iowa-based clinic for therapy.
“I knew she would be the one to get me going,’’ Swatek added. “Kris is the same as before, amazing. She has me moving along. Kris has this amazing attitude, an amazing personality, motivation and drive. Besides, she makes it fun. We joke around a lot. I drive 60 miles one way – 120 round trip to PT – but it’s where I want and where I need to be.’’
In 2004, a harmless stumble – or so she thought – was an ankle fracture Swatek – and doctors – were unable to determine for months.
That was the beginning…
What followed was ankle replacement in 2013, 11 ankle surgeries from 2015 to 2018, a number of allergic reactions to metal rods in her body and a variety of infections. It was in 2018, that Swatek and Marcks – a pair of never-give-in types – began working together after Swatek’s below-the-knee amputation.
“I was finally able to get a leg and started working with Kris right away,’’ Swatek said. “I was terrified to start this process. The new leg hurt like crazy; my leg was so tender after everything. I thought there was no way I was going to able to walk again.’’
Marcks, according to Swatek, understood the work ahead for the pair, but was determined to have success.
“Kris was absolutely amazing from the start,’’ Swatek said of Marcks, who is a certified spinal manual therapist and does great work with pelvic health. “I feel like we just hit it off right away. She’s not an amputee, but it really seems like she knows everything we go through. She pushed me in a way I needed to be pushed or I wouldn’t have made it through what I did. Her personality is so refreshing and it’s not so much like business. I feel so totally comfortable around her. I don’t dread going to PT, I never have. I actually look forward to it.’’
While Swatek was moving forward with her life after their first time through therapy, Marcks would move into a regional manager’s spot with Rock Valley, setting up shop in Iowa’s Fayette County, at West Union. After a couple of years, Swatek – who had even begun a support group for others like her – experienced issues with her leg.
In 2021, those issues – life-threatening infections – forced Swatek to undergo an above-the-knee amputation. Major life struggles soon followed for Swatek, a dedicated glass-half-full type.
“The depression, the anxiety, worthlessness and many other feelings have been unimaginable,’’ she said. “All of this has taken a huge toll on me mentally and physically. So many times I have just wanted to give up, not just with walking, but with life. If I cannot do something I feel like a failure.
“I’ve always been hard on myself and still am, but my support team, my sisters, my husband have been my rocks,’’ added Swatek. “ Even with the support, to get blinded to the fact your life will never be the same, is hard. Some of the things you used to do you can’t do as well anymore. It affects your work, your mind and your relationships. I’ve cried more the past seven years than I have my whole life. After this AKA, I have had an extremely hard time. My balance was really bad and I have spent the majority of the time in a wheelchair. ‘’
For a time, Swatek sought help elsewhere. It simply was not Marcks and it was not Rock Valley Physical Therapy.
“I knew Kris had moved to West Union,’’ Swatek said. “And I really didn’t think I could drive that far. I had been (elsewhere) and spent a total of 30 minutes (in two visits) and realized that was absolutely not going to work. I wanted to give up. Then I asked my husband about driving a couple of times a week to go to Kris and he said whatever I wanted.’’
Like they had before, the patient and therapist hit it off. And success quickly followed.
“Today I am better,’’ Swatek said. “I’m walking with a cane and keeping my leg on most of the day. The leg sucks, it’s big and bulky, clothes don’t fit right, sitting doesn’t feel good, walking is much harder. I think it’s a lifelong challenge, but my health is pretty good. I was really pumped (to work with Kris).’’
For the humble-to-a-fault Marcks, a genuine Jack of all Trades, getting a chance to better Swatek’s life has always been the goal.
“I saw Connie four years ago when I worked in the Waterloo clinic,’’ Marcks said. “It was after her below-knee amputation. She called a month ago and asked if I would see her in my current location, West Union, for prosthetic training after having an above knee amputation on the same leg. She is driving over an hour to come to PT in West Union because she had failed treatment at a different clinic in Waterloo and knew she could do well working with me.”
“We just started a month ago,’’ added Marcks. “Connie had just received her prosthesis and was using two crutches. She didn’t like wearing it at all and really wasn’t in a good place dealing with it. She is now walking with a cane and is wearing her prosthesis most of the day. Although we typically say it can take up to 6 months to get to maximum function with an AKA, I foresee she will improve more quickly and could be done in 2-3 months – 4 months total.’’
Marcks says Swatek has always been determined and dedicated to getting better.
“She has always been willing to do what it takes to become more mobile again,’’ Marcks said. “For the first 3 weeks, I saw her two times a week and just decreased down to one time a week so she doesn’t have to drive. She does everything I ask of her to do. You give her stretch, she does it. Her progress is amazing.’’
That would be the team of Marcks and Swatek.