In late 2015, Long Beach Police Department Officer Scott Nishitani noticed a drop in his endurance and stamina while working out. Within a few months, the then-46-year-old couldn’t button his shirt or stand on his own feet. P.O.E.M.S. syndrome, a very rare blood cancer that damages the nerves and affects nearly every part of the body, threatened Scott’s life.
Intensive treatment helped “reset” his blood system. But the damage had been done.
When Scott came to Hoag’s Rehabilitation Services program in 2016, he had gone from an active officer to wheelchair-bound in what seemed like the blink of an eye. He didn’t know what to expect at Hoag, but he was born at the hospital, he was familiar with its reputation and he was encouraged immediately by the professionalism and expertise of the specialists.
“When I got to Hoag, I could not lift my feet off the leg rest of the wheelchair, I couldn’t extend my legs straight. I couldn’t stand unassisted,” Scott said. “Now I can drive, do laundry, cook, make the bed. The progress from where I was to where I am now, is a huge motivator to keep going.”
Because the issues he faced were so rare and specialized, Scott required specialized rehabilitation care. Hoag therapists have advanced certification or training in neurology, orthopedics, vestibular rehabilitation, geriatrics, lymphedema, pelvic floor, hand rehabilitation, voice and swallowing.
“All the cancerous blood cells deteriorated and attacked the lining of the nerves that controlled all the motion in my body. It had started with the longest nerves, those in my legs, and then worked its way up to my arms and hands,” Scott said. “Luckily it was caught before it went into my chest. Otherwise, I would have had to be on a breathing tube.”
Having experienced such extensive and debilitating damage, Scott doesn’t take any motion for granted.
“My therapists will ask me, ‘Should we try this? Should we try that?’ My answer is always, ‘Let’s just go for it,’” he said. “They’re good at challenging me.”
Scott says his occupational and physical therapists have been critical to his progress. He has been coming to Hoag twice a week for a year, and each time he works to challenge himself as much as possible.
“Recovery is super slow, but it is so helpful to have someone there monitoring my progress and pushing me,” he said. “I’m gaining my strength back. I’m independent, self-sufficient.”
Scott now walks with a single-point cane and uses hand controls to drive a car. With every bit of progress, the staff at Hoag has been encouraging and empowering.
“At the end of my session, random therapists will stop me in the therapy gym and say, ‘You’re looking great!’” he said. “There is that positive reinforcement for me. When I think back to a year ago, when I couldn’t do anything myself to where I am now, it’s incredible. Nobody wants to go to physical therapy, but it’s that much easier when everyone from the receptionist to the therapists are pleasant and encouraging. It makes a difference.”