Saleh: Rehabilitation After Cancer
Saleh Alzahrani, from Saudi Arabia, was diagnosed with cancer at the age of 12. He underwent a successful surgery to remove a brain stem tumor and then went back to his daily life. At the age of 25, Alzahrani learned that his cancer had returned and another operation was required to remove a tumor, which was located on the medulla – the lower part of the brain stem that connects with the spinal cord.
Complications from this second surgery were quite serious and included neuropathy, respiratory failure, dysphagia, hydrocephalus and quadriplegia – paralysis of the arms and legs. Confined to a hospital room, Alzahrani had no movement or therapy and could only dream of feeling the sun’s warmth again.
In hopes of improving his condition, Alzahrani’s family successfully appealed to Saudi Arabian royal offices for approval to receive therapy abroad. After researching the options, the Embassy of Saudi Arabia in Washington, D.C., selected TIRR Memorial Hermann in Houston, Texas to provide Alzahrani with rehabilitation and therapy. Due to complications during the long flight to the United States, upon his arrival Alzahrani was first admitted to Memorial Hermann-Texas Medical Center.
In July 2013, with his condition stabilized, Alzahrani was transferred to nearby TIRR Memorial Hermann to participate in the International Services Program and Spinal Cord Injury Program, with the goal of increasing his independence. Early on, his rehabilitation team had him sitting up in a wheelchair – a huge accomplishment, as he had only been lying down in a hospital bed for the previous year.
The ability to sit up opened a new world of opportunities for Alzahrani. He was now able to move his wheelchair with assistive technology, using his chin to control the chair’s motions. With this new freedom, he was able to move around the hospital himself and finally had the opportunity to go outdoors and enjoy the garden area with his father. As his therapy continued, Alzahrani regained his ability to engage in eating and drinking, sit upright on a mat and use assistive technology to accomplish important activities of daily living such as checking email on his iPad and calling home to Saudi Arabia.
Alzahrani’s family also received education and training to manage his complex needs for short periods of time, so that he could go outside of the hospital and begin to learn how to integrate back into the community. He was able to go to the market and shopping centers and, most importantly, attend mosque. He and his family were elated by his progress and especially felt blessed that he could once again worship at a mosque.
Alzahrani’s care team received an award from TIRR Memorial Hermann’s Partners in Caring for demonstrating outstanding teamwork and compassion as they worked diligently to ensure that his quality of life would be enhanced by the end of his hospital stay. They were also recognized for their ability to create a true “home away from home” for Alzahrani and his family during their time in the United States, balancing a friendly approach to caring for him with a genuine respect for his cultural and religious wishes and needs.
Upon returning to Saudi Arabia, Alzahrani plans to participate in outpatient therapy. “I would like to thank God for all of His blessings, and the entire staff and management at TIRR Memorial Hermann for everything they have done for me and my family, the opportunities they provided for me and the quality of care, compassion, respect and cultural awareness they provided to me,” he said. “They have made me feel like an honorary citizen in the U.S.A. and given me back my independence. For this we are grateful.”