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Riah's Story: Finding Balance Through Physical Therapy

woman smilingAt the end of 2021, 29-year-old Riah tested positive for COVID-19. As she started her quarantine, her vaccine was doing its job and she was only experiencing mild symptoms. After a few days, Riah began to feel dizzy, the room started spinning and eventually she was struggling to move without vomiting. She sought medical care and was given medication to treat the nausea and an IV to treat the dehydration.

The days went by and her symptoms didn’t improve so she sought medical care a second time. This time she was so dizzy she had to rely on ski poles to get into the clinic, but her outcome was the same – medication for the nausea and no definitive explanation.

Riah left the second medical visit feeling like life as she knew it was over. She had always been active, working as a massage therapist in the winter and river rafting guide in the summer. How could she be in the backcountry, on the river keeping others safe, if she couldn’t stand or move without the world spinning? All she could see was a life of barely being able to get out of the house and her mom having to care for her day and night.

Riah took to social media to ask for help. What she found online was a group of people who had been through something similar following their COVID diagnosis. She also found Gunnison Valley Health Physical Therapist, Kristin Grimes, who offered her a solution.

Kristin sent Riah a message via social media asking if she would be willing to come to the office. Riah decided to give Kristin a chance, a decision that set her on a course of healing.

After evaluating Riah in clinic, Kristin concluded that she may be experiencing symptoms related to vestibular neuritis, a disorder that affects the nerve that connects the inner ear to the brain. It often occurs following a viral infection and, while most people recover, some experience lifelong impacts. Kristin connected Riah to a primary care physician who was able to prescribe oral steroids and started a rehab program designed to retrain the brain and equilibrium (vestibular) system.

But the first and arguably most important step in treatment – acknowledging the legitimacy of Riah’s symptoms and the presence of a diagnosable medical condition.

“It was such a terrifying experience and Kristin was the first person who didn’t treat me like I was crazy. Even before we started the therapy, she gave me hope – hope that I could feel better and have my life back. She was empathetic and caring, she listened to me and believed me when I shared my symptoms and my experience. I am still amazed at how quickly my situation improved. After a couple of weeks and a few sessions, I could see light at the end of the tunnel and was feeling like myself again.”

Today, Riah is back on her feet, doing the things she loves and is trading the ski poles for oars and a summer on the river.