Left to right: Sonya Fisk, physical therapist assistant; James Foster; and Melanie Carr, occupational therapist

James Foster was only 69 when a series of health problems hit in fast succession, leaving him extremely weak.


Not only did he have a heart attack, but he also suffered from pneumonia, respiratory failure, sepsis, hypertension, anemia and liver shock. He was on a ventilator and feeding tube while he was in the hospital.


When Foster came to The Heritage Center in Morristown, Tennessee, on Dec. 27, 2017, to start his recovery, he needed a machine to lift him out of bed and was unable to sit up for very long. His vitals were unstable, and he was lethargic.


“When I met him, he was pale, his toes were black, he was unable to sit up for more than a few minutes, and he went to the hospital several times,” said Sonya Fisk, physical therapist assistant. “I honestly didn’t know if he was going to survive.”


Physical and occupational therapists set out to help Foster overcome those odds.


In physical therapy, Foster worked on strengthening and balance, slowly improving to where he could sit more, stand and walk. Several exercise and weight machines helped him with this training, including the AlterG® Anti-Gravity Treadmill®, which allowed him to practice walking at a reduced weight and in a secure, zipped-in environment.


Occupational therapy addressed Foster’s ability to take care of himself. He practiced skills such as getting dressed, bathing and doing his daily grooming activities.


“When I was looking around the room, I never thought I would get back to walking and doing the things the other patients were doing,” said Foster. “Until eventually I realized I was able to and I was getting better. Now other people are saying, ‘Wow, I wish I could walk as good as he does.’”


Foster has come a long way. He is currently able to walk up to 200 feet with someone by his side to steady him if need be, and he is able to take care of his self-care activities independently with some modifications. He returned home on April 27, 2018, and is continuing his progress as an outpatient.