Knoxville Woman Finds Hope, Healing with Physical Therapy

Nancy Piske lives in west Knoxville with her husband and terrier pup. Despite enjoying retirement, she found herself dragging her left leg and walking with a defined limp. She sought
medical care when the numbness in her legs caused her to fall, hurting her left knee and breaking  her wrist.

Nancy Piske pictured outside with her sister.
Nancy Piske, right, with her sister Kelly, who helped Piske spiritually through her therapy journey.

After an MRI and several other tests, Piske’s care team discovered a benign tumor (called a schwannoma) on her spinal cord that was creating problems in her left leg. Why a schwannoma develops is unknown, but doctors confirmed the tumor would continue to grow, and Piske would face paralysis if she didn’t have it surgically removed.

In December 2019 the spinal tumor was surgically removed. The damage done by the tumor had already  caused partial paralysis, which is why she felt numbness and dragged one leg. She woke up in her hospital room after surgery and had no feeling below the waist. There was no reassurance she would walk again.

A steady source of unwavering support, Piske’s husband of 50 years held her hand while they faced a new reality: she would have to use a wheelchair. “I couldn’t move at all. It was the most
horrific feeling,” she recalls.

Patricia Neal Rehabilitation Center

Piske spent 21 days at Patricia Neal Rehabilitation Center undergoing vigorous physical rehabilitation and occupational therapies. She learned how to brush her teeth, get dressed and transfer in and out of bed from her wheelchair.

Needing encouragement, she phoned her beloved sister Kelly, with whom she has a deep spiritual connection. Kelly, a pastor in Alabama, confided that the Lord spoke to her, that they were to have  trust, and that her sister Nancy would walk again. Each day, Piske trusted the Lord would allow her to walk again. Eventually, she did.

Hope at Home

When Piske went home to heal, it wasn’t without hope. Yamil Gonzalez, a physical therapist
with Covenant HomeCare, visited her twice per week for several months and aided Piske with maneuvering around her own home. With constant exercise, hard work and a dose of optimism, Piske was able to transition from a wheel- chair to a walker with wheels. She learned to use the walker to get around her house, which was a significant improvement.

Headshot of Yamil Gonzalez, Physical Therapist
Yamil Gonzalez, Physical
Therapist, Covenant HomeCare

The miracle doesn’t stop there. Gonzalez saw the potential in his patient. He recommended she continue her therapy at  Covenant Health Therapy Center- West Knoxville, a department of Parkwest Medical Center. The 8,000-square- foot space was the perfect environment for Piske to explore her potential.

Gonzalez, who has been a physical therapist for more than 30 years, says, “I love my chosen
profession be- cause I get to help and encourage people during a difficult time in their lives. I have both the privilege and responsibility to come up with a plan to help patients recover
from their injuries. “It is so rewarding to be able to celebrate every small accomplishment
with them as they continue on their road to recovery. For me, physical therapy is a way of loving people and serving God.”

Every Step of the Way

At Covenant Health Therapy Center – West Knoxville, Piske worked with physical therapist Suzanne Moskal twice weekly. Moskal immediately became one of Piske’s biggest cheerleaders. Moskal helped her patient with gait training, balance exercises and strengthening her legs and core. She saw Piske’s spunky personality slowly reemerge with each small achievement. With determination, positivity and hope, Piske transitioned from the walker to a cane.

Head shot of Suzanne Moskal, Clinical Specialist, Physical Therapist
Suzanne Moskal, Clinical Specialist, Physical Therapist, Covenant Therapy Center – West Knoxville

“Hope is such an import- ant part of what we do,” says Moskal. “I have worked for Covenant Health for 31 years, and I am so proud to be part of an organization that puts patients first.”

Moskal says being a physical therapist is the best career she can imagine. “Every day I get
the opportunity to impact someone’s life in a positive way by improving their mobility. The
ability to walk and get back to doing normal everyday activities – this is what my patients call
‘getting their life back.’”

Piske describes the past year as humbling and eye-opening, and maintains one thing ever
fervently: her trust in the Lord. She reflects, “They couldn’t tell me if I would walk again,
because spinal cord injuries are hard to predict. That’s why I know it was the Lord, and I
want to give all the glory to Him. I have no feeling below the waist, and yet I can walk. It’s
truly a miracle.”

For more information about the services available at Covenant Health Therapy Center,
visit or call us at (865) 531-5710.

Continuum of Care

After spinal cord surgery, patient Nancy Piske transitioned  from the hospital to Patricia Neal Rehabilitation Center for physical and occupational therapy. While learning to use a wheelchair she required assistance with basic movements and practiced new skills. She then received home health care at her residence, where a Covenant HomeCare physical therapist helped her find her potential. She “graduated” to outpatient physical therapy at Covenant Health Therapy Center-West Knoxville, where she made additional improvements and transitioned from using a walker to using a cane.

Suzanne Moskal, clinical specialist and physical therapist with Covenant Health Therapy Center
– West Knoxville, confirms, “Her progress has been remarkable. Part of her successful outcome can be attributed to a seamless progression of therapeutic services and a continuum of care provided by the Covenant Health system.” Moskal describes the ease of transition from one area of care to another.

Yamil Gonzalez, physical therapist with Covenant Home Care, says, “Recovery from an injury
usually requires a team of people over an extended period of  time and over multiple settings. The hospital therapists often begin the rehab process, and once the patient returns home, I get to build on what those therapists have already started. It is great to have the Covenant Health Therapy Center – West Knoxville to progress the patients to the next phase of recovery, which often includes exercise on rehabilitation equipment that we don’t have available in the home care setting. I know the therapists there are skillful and dedicated, and do an excellent job in the next phase of recovery.”

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Spinal Cord Tumors

A tumor forms when an abnormal cell grows to form a mass of abnormal cells. Spinal cord tumors are tumors that form in the spinal cord or in the area around it.

A spinal cord tumor may be cancer (malignant) or noncancerous (benign). A benign tumor can often cause pain and discomfort because it pushes on the spinal cord or nerves.

Spinal cord tumors are fairly uncommon. They may form inside the spinal cord itself or around the bones that make up the spine, and cause problems with the nearby nerves, blood vessels, and bones.  Spinal cord tumors are sometimes caused by a genetic disorder such as neurofibromatosis.

While some spinal cord tumors can be successfully treated, some can cause long-lasting or permanent damage to the nerves and result in disability. The earlier you tell your healthcare
provider about your symptoms, get a diagnosis and start treatment, the better your outcome is likely to be.