As a doctoral student at the Ross University School of Veterinary Medicine on the island of St. Kitts, Brook Toussaint spent a lot of time in and around the ocean, both for educational purposes and for enjoyment. In January 2021, she was swimming to an uninhabited island to look at the reefs and wildlife with a group of classmates when she was bitten by a shark.
“I was in the third year of a four-year program,” said Brook. “We were in a group of seven, three of us were in the water and four were in kayaks.”
While in the water, a tiger shark attacked Brook’s left leg. There was a brief struggle before Brook poked the shark in the eye, which caused it to release her long enough for her to get away. Her friends applied a tourniquet to her severely injured leg and placed Brook on one of the kayaks.
“We were unable to make it back to shore for rescue,” said Brook. “We were in the ocean calling for assistance–and the coast guard had to pull me onto their boat from the water and they took me to the closer island of Nevis.”
Due to the extent of her injuries, Brook’s leg was amputated while in the hospital on Nevis. Then, she was transferred to St. Kitts to stay in their ICU overnight before then transferring to Memorial Hermann-Texas Medical Center for additional medical care. Brook is from Houston and wanted to be hospitalized near her family as she recovered.
She stayed at Memorial Hermann-TMC for 10 days and then transferred to TIRR Memorial Hermann to begin her rehabilitation.
“When Brook arrived at TIRR Memorial Hermann, the first thing we did was address the phantom pain she was experiencing, as well as her grief over losing a limb,” said her physical therapist Marie Bierne, PT, DPT. “She had a great sense of humor, which helped us through that process. We also worked on increasing her endurance, core, and upper body strength so she could learn to walk again.”
In addition to doing a lot of work on parallel bars and the mats, Marie utilized mirror therapy as a way to help Brook with her phantom pain. Mirror therapy utilizes mirrors to trick the brain into thinking both limbs are intact and functional. Incorporating mirrors as part of treatment after limb loss has been an area of research at TIRR Memorial Hermann.
Knowing that she was a swimmer, her occupational therapist, YaRonda Broussard, OTR, MOT, did exercises with Brook to prepare her to get back in the water after her limb loss.
“We worked on back strengthening, which was necessary for her to swim again,” said YaRonda. “One exercise we did was for her to lay on her stomach. Then, she would simulate swimming by forming her body straight, like the capital letter I, then move her arms out like the capital letter Y, and finally to her sides, like the capital letter T.”
After two weeks, Brook was discharged from inpatient care at TIRR Memorial Hermann. Her phantom pain had diminished, she was using a rolling walker, and she was preparing to be fitted for a prosthetic. Brook then began outpatient therapy at TIRR Memorial Hermann Outpatient Rehabilitation at Sugar Land to continue her rehabilitation.
“In outpatient therapy we continued to help Brook prepare to return to school,” said her outpatient physical therapist Flavia Pualani, PT. “She received her permanent prosthetic leg during outpatient therapy, and with that she was able to learn to walk along uneven surfaces while carrying objects - this simulated carrying animals across the beach or uneven terrain which was something she would be doing when she returned to school. We also were able to spend some time in the pool to help her prepare to return to swimming.”
In January 2022, Brook returned to her studies at Ross University School of Veterinary Medicine and she is continuing to complete the requirements for her doctoral program.
"Brook was a hard worker in therapy and very motivated to do her home exercise program to be able to achieve her ultimate goal of returning to school,” said Kristin Reeves, PT, MS, Program Manager of Limb Loss at TIRR Memorial Hermann. “She was very goal driven and able to become independent in all of her functional activities. We are so happy to see her achieve her goals!"
For the 34th consecutive year, TIRR Memorial Hermann is recognized as the best rehabilitation hospital in Texas and No. 4 in the nation according to U.S. News and World Report's "Best Rehabilitation Hospitals" in America.Learn More
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