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Jan 04, 2023

Rock Valley now offering aquatic therapy in conjunction with local YMCA’s

Patty Heggen is energetic, kind to a fault, a liver of all that is good about life. Her enthusiasm is so contagious it is hard to imagine her life in neutral, slowed by surgery to remove a tumor from her spine.

Neutral, however, was where the always-on-the-go Heggen stood following surgery 12-plus months ago. Expecting to simply pick up where she left off following such a tricky and invasive procedure and to jump back into her before-surgery routine, frustration set in when it did not happen. Her Iowa City, Iowa-based surgeon warned Heggen it would be a year before she would be her always-on-the-go self.

To find her way back, Heggen would call on Rock Valley Physical Therapy, one of the largest therapist-owned and therapist-led private PT practices in the nation, and its outstanding aquatic therapy program.

Rock Valley’s aquatic therapy is available in the Quad Cities at the Moline, Ill.–based Two Rivers YMCA every Monday, Wednesday and Friday, from noon-4 p.m. Rock Valley Illinois-based therapists are: Nettie Nice-Fogel PTA, MAq  (Aquatic Certified); Katie Finch, PT. DPT; Kristin Czuba PT, DPT, GCS, CEEAA.

In Davenport, Iowa, Rock Valley features aquatic therapy every Tuesday and Thursday from 1 to 4 p.m. at the Bittner Family YMCA. Therapists leading the Davenport, Iowa, program are: 

Kaitlyn Rosenstiel, PT, DPT, ATC, and Jill Cappaert, PT, DPT.

“I scoffed,’’ Heggen said of the doctor’s take on her lengthy recovery. “I didn’t have that kind of time. I thought I would just go home and get back to doing the things I used to do. That did not happen. I had no idea the magnitude of the surgery and its impact on my body. I also had no idea it would affect other areas of my body, causing right leg weakness and balance issues. I thought I go through physical therapy and be right back where I was.’’

After two attempts to right the ship on land, Heggen, with the help of Rock Valley Physical Therapy’s Nettie Nice-Fogel, PTA, MAq  (Aquatic Certified), found relief and a new lease on life via the water.

It was the perfect, life-changing decision for Heggen.

Today, she is back to her old self, walking three, sometimes four, miles each day, topping the charts recently with a 7-mile, up-paced stroll. Life, which had been uncharacteristically cloudy for someone as positive as Heggen, is again filled with optimistic sunshine.

“Patty was seen in aquatic therapy from a surgery which consisted of removing a tumor from her spine,’’ Nice-Fogel said. “Patty could hardly walk, had decreased balance, increased pain with exercise on land, and was frustrated and discouraged. Patty was not the Patty I knew before this.’’

Nice-Fogel said she used the properties of the water to assist Heggen in strengthening the affected areas without increased pain, worked together with her on core stability and proprioception to assist with functional movement on land. 

“Physical therapy felt better in the water,’’ Nice-Fogel said of the path used to help Heggen. “And she was working on herself emotionally, building up confidence that she will get better. The warm water makes you feel good. 

“Patty was dedicated, determined and always up for a challenge,’’ added Nice-Fogel, a longtime and dedicated Rock Valley family member. “Patty has her own pool and faithfully did aquatic exercises on her own. Patty has always been active and loves to walk 5 or more miles a day.’’

Though it changed dramatically for the better as she progressed, Heggen said aquatic therapy was a challenge early because of where she was physically and mentally after not making the strides she wanted outside the pool.

“I loved the water, that was the best part the first couple of times,’’ she said. “It’s amazing. But I lacked strength and balance and I needed Netti’s help – wrapping a (water) noodle around me – to accomplish anything at first. I can remember not being able to raise my foot to go up the stairs of the pool. It was a struggle but that all changed. And it changed for the good.’’

Soon the ever-determined Heggen regained balance, and with Nice-Fogel’s help, learned to work the areas that had not responded to land therapy.

“There were tough days, but those days got better and better,’’ Heggen said enthusiastically. “And then I began to feel really good. I can remember Nettie telling me how excited she was at my progress, but limited my work one particular day to what we had done in the pool and a mile walk.

“And Nettie said that I was to only walk a mile that day,’’ added Heggen. “Well, I walked three miles and was in pain. Nettie knew just what would work, where I was as far as getting better and exactly what my body was ready for. She was right at every step. Nettie knew I did too much and so we took a step back.Then, whenever Nettie explained what the progression was and my limitations – and there were some – I listened.’’

As a dedicated advocate for aquatic therapy, Nice-Fogel is forever sharing its benefits. And they are numerous.

“The pool is an ideal motivating environment as patients see rapid changes in their status,’’  she said. “Patients are able to use the properties of water such as buoyancy (used to reduce weight-bearing and increase ease of limb movement), viscosity (for graded progression of strength training and for sensory input), hydrostatic pressure (for edema/effusion management and cardio respiratory challenges) and thermal shifts (for pain control). It helps to improve flexibility, build muscle strength and endurance, reduce stress on the joints, muscles and bones, increase ability to exercise on land and improve balance.’’

For Heggen, now up to a maximum of 7 miles in her longest walks, the goal of again walking the half marathon portion of the Quad Cities Marathon, is the goal. A goal that would not have come to light if not for Rock Valley Physical therapy making aquatic therapy available. And with the  help of an ever-dedicated therapist in Nice-Fogel.

“Not this year, but that is the goal for next year,’’ said Heggen, who says she loves to work in her garden, but has yet to mow the lawn of her Rock Island home, which includes a front and side hill. “I don’t think my husband would go for mowing the lawn at this time. But I am walking several miles a day and I feel amazing. Aquatic therapy works, I’m proof. Nettie is amazing. It’s also important – in my case and I’m sure for many others – that Rock Valley offers an important option like aquatic therapy.’’

Water works. And it plays a role in Rock Valley Physical Therapy “Making Better Lives.’’

By: Johnny Marx, Storyteller