Patient and Provider Form Unique Bond in Fight Against MS

As a new physical therapist, Annie Stoecklein's first patient with MS was Carl Hohman. Seven years later, the two continue to work together, supporting each other through life's ups and downs.

Seven years ago, a young physical therapist entered the Physical Therapy suite at Mayo Clinic Health System in La Crosse, preparing to meet a new patient who was living with the physical effects and limitation of multiple sclerosis. "He was my first MS patient, and I remember being pretty nervous to work with him," Annie Stoecklein tells us.

When Carl Hohman walked into the room, however, Stoecklein's nervousness walked out. "From the very start — day one — he was like, 'OK, you're the boss. Let's go.'" Stoecklein says.

So they did, getting right to work on the immediate goal Carl had set for himself. "He was walking with a walker and he wanted to be able to walk a little bit farther than he was — from room to room in his house," Stoecklein says. "His goals right away were very specific, but also realistic. And that's always been the case with him. He's always been very motivated and very positive, while believing he can always do more. At the same time, he understands the limitations he's under due to the MS."

Over the years, those limitations have caused Carl's ability to walk on his own to ebb and flow. But for every step backward, there have been steps forward, with Stoecklein by his side leading the way. "He is like another father to me," Stoecklein recently told La Crosse's WXOW 19 News. "He makes me excited to come to work, he has made me feel better on rough days and I know that I've done the same for him."

And on those rough days — despite whatever setback they're dealing with — Carl says he knows Stoecklein and her colleagues will be there to pick him up. "Fortunately, I got a great group of people that I work with around here. Everybody in the place is very supportive," he tells WXOW of his Mayo care team.

That support, Stoecklein tells us, is very much a two-way street. "I was going through some stuff in my personal life a while ago, and during that time he told me how thankful he was for me," she says. "Not every patient talks so highly of physical therapy."

But not every patient is Carl Hohman. "He's just one of those patients that when he's on your schedule for that day — regardless of the time of day — you look forward to that time," Stoecklein says. "He's been a really good friend and patient throughout the years and I'm so happy we're helping him meet his current goal of walking again."

A goal that Stoecklein says is made easier by the help of another key member of Carl's care team, certified nursing assistant Courtney Pittman. "She's probably the main reason we're able to do as much during our physical therapy sessions as we are," Stoecklein says of Pittman. "She works with Carl five days a week at his home and that's been crucial and has allowed us to focus on other things during his PT sessions here at Mayo. Courtney deserves a lot of the credit for keeping Carl as strong as he is right now."

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