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Blood Flow Restriction Therapy helps patient regain strength after surgery


Tom Riley, of Belle Fourche, sits beside the Blood Flow Restriction device that helped him regain strength in his arm at Monument Health Rehabilitation in Belle Fourche.

“What happened is, March of 2018, I noticed I was getting real intense pain in my neck that I just couldn’t get rid of,” began Tom Riley of Belle Fourche. Physical therapy brought a little relief, but it never lasted long, and Tom’s arm kept growing weaker. When he reached a point where he could barely lift a telephone, his primary care physician sent him to Monument Health Orthopedic & Specialty Hospital.

There, Michael Huot, M.D., with West River Anesthesiology Consultants, examined him and concluded he needed surgery right away. “He looked at me and told me he couldn’t do anything for me,” said Tom. “He told me that I needed emergency surgery to save the nerve in my arm.”

The next morning, Tom had that surgery, which included fusing cervical vertebrae in his neck. That procedure prevented the pain from worsening, but it didn’t restore the strength in Tom’s right arm.

For that, Tom needed to return to physical therapy. But with his arm so weak, he was limited in how much exercise he could do with it. Luckily, Monument Health physical therapist Kelsey Olson had recently earned her certification in Blood Flow Restriction training, or BFR.

Kelsey was one of a number of physical therapists that worked with Tom, and she felt that BFR might help in his recovery. “Normally you use it for orthopedic surgeries like knees or hips, and I thought why don’t we give it a try for Tom,” said Kelsey. “He couldn’t lift much weight, but we needed to get his strength and range of motion back.” BFR involves using a cuff or band — similar to a blood pressure cuff — that creates compression allowing the user to exercise with minimal loads, but with more significant results.

“It kind of tricks your body into thinking it’s doing more work than it is,” she added. Tom saw Kelsey twice a week, and using BFR, he would do four or five exercises. He made significant improvement. “It helped a lot that he was super motivated,” said Kelsey. “The therapy works, but you have to put in the effort. Tom always did, and he stayed positive throughout the process.”

During his recovery, Rhonda Fuhrer, Supervisor of Business Office Operations at the Belle Fourche Clinic, submitted an application on Tom’s behalf to Chutes for Charity, the non-profit extension of the Black Hills Roundup, that helps local families face life-changing events in and around Belle Fourche. “I was a bus driver for Rhonda’s daughter, and she submitted my name to get us some financial assistance, and it was just a huge help,” Tom reflected. It had such a positive impact on Tom and his wife that when he was able to work again, he saved money and made his own donation to Chutes for Charity — double what they had given him.

“I just felt that I needed to pay it forward,” said Tom. He’s grateful for the help provided by Chutes for Charity, and the treatment he received from Monument Health. “That doctor probably saved my arm,” Tom reflected. “And thanks to the physical therapy, I’m back to maybe 60 percent of what my arm was, and it’s still slowly coming. It’s at a point now where I can do pretty much everything I’ve always done. That feels pretty good.”

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