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St. Charles Rehabilitation Center

By Anthony Petriello

St. Charles Hospital’s renowned rehabilitation department has a new second-in-command. Laura Beck, a current employee at the hospital and a Miller Place resident, was recently promoted to Vice President of Rehabilitation.

Beck will be responsible for overseeing both inpatient and outpatient rehabilitation for St. Charles as well as recently implemented programs geared toward sports medicine; treating lymphedema, a condition that leads to fluid build-up and swelling; and vestibular rehabilitation, an exercise-based program aimed at alleviating balance and gait issues.

St. Charles Hospital’s new Vice President of Rehabilitation Laura Beck. Photo from St. Charles Hospital

Beck has been working at St. Charles in various positions for 26 years, and she received her Bachelor’s Degree in Physical Therapy from Quinnipiac College, which is now Quinnipiac University. Her first position as a physical therapist was at St. Charles, and she returned to college and received her Master’s degree in Healthcare Administration and Policy from Stony Brook University.

“I am very excited for the opportunity,” she said. “St. Charles has an extremely long history, over 110 years, of excellence in rehabilitation that I am very proud to be a part of, and I am very excited for the chance to further our program, continue to grow, and continue the tradition of rehab we have had here for so many years.”

Beck has had served in many roles in her tenure at St. Charles. She started out as a staff physical therapist in 1991 and was promoted to a senior level physical therapist in 1994. Two years later Beck was promoted once again to supervising physical therapist, overseeing other therapists while still seeing patients herself. Beck started her focus on outpatient rehabilitation in 2000, when she was promoted to center manager of the Port Jefferson outpatient office.

Acknowledging her knowledge and acumen in rehabilitation, the hospital promoted her to director of Outpatient Rehabilitation, Pediatric Rehabilitation Services, and Offsite Contracts in 2003. In that position, which she held until just recently, she oversaw the daily activities of all nine of St. Charles’ outpatient rehabilitation locations across Long Island, which treat more than 10,000 patients every year, according to the hospital’s website.

Jim O’Connor, the executive vice president and chief administrative officer of St. Charles Hospital, was optimistic about Beck’s ability to fill the position and further the progress the rehabilitation department has made.

“There is a lot of opportunity to grow services … I don’t know that change is the word, I just think we have to continue to grow, stay current, and stay topical with evidence based practice.”

— Laura Beck

“Laura brings a wealth of experience to her new role for which her responsibilities include leading and directing all administrative functions of both the Inpatient and Outpatient Rehabilitation Departments,” O’Connor said. “Additionally, she will provide leadership oversight in the development of short- and long-range goals for programmatic development and financial planning as well as recommend new or revised policies and operational procedures in all administrative areas.”

Beck said she is prepared to seek new opportunities for the rehabilitation department and work to update and improve the services that are already being provided at the hospital and at outpatient locations. When asked if she would make any changes to the rehabilitation department as a whole, Beck remained pragmatic.

“There is a lot of opportunity to grow services,” she said. “We are the only inpatient rehabilitation hospital in Suffolk County, so I think we have a lot of opportunities to grow and improve the technology that is available to our patients. I don’t know that change is the word, I just think we have to continue to grow, stay current, and stay topical with evidence based practice.”

Putting one foot in front of the other never looked so inspiring.

A freak sledding accident in Vermont in 2009 left Greg Durso, 31, of Stony Brook unable to use his lower body from his stomach muscles down. With the help of St. Charles Hospital’s rehabilitation center, he stood and walked across a room Dec. 13 in front of his family and dozens of hospital personnel for the first time since his accident.

Greg Durso, who is paraplegic, walks at St. Charles Hospital Dec. 13 with help from an Indego exoskeleton. Photo by Alex Petroski
Greg Durso, who is paraplegic, walks at St. Charles Hospital Dec. 13 with help from an Indego exoskeleton. Photo by Alex Petroski

Durso was aided by a clinical trial product called the Indego exoskeleton, which is a wearable robotic frame. St. Charles is one of nine hospitals in the United States conducting the clinical trial, and the only one on Long Island. Durso is the first patient at the hospital to take the technology for a spin.

“It’s just an incredible feeling to be up there and be walking again — putting weight on your legs,” Durso said after his groundbreaking stroll. “Each step is kind of like a leap of faith … a month ago I probably couldn’t have told you I’d be here today, so when I heard about this, I was so happy to have the opportunity to do this.”

Indego is the second FDA-approved exoskeleton device used for lower limbs. The device weighs about 26 pounds, and requires no backpack or external wires, as other similar devices have in the past. Currently the machine is operated by Durso’s chest muscles, but future incarnations of the device will allow electrical stimulation in the muscles so that a patient’s own legs will make the machine work, according to St. Charles Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation Medical Director Jennifer Semel. The FDA gave the machine clearance in March.

“The future is really limitless,” Semel said in an interview. “It’s really exciting to see people who haven’t been able to stand up in several years not only to be at the same height as their peers, but to be able to walk. It’s really uplifting.”

Semel said Durso has been using the device for about a month, and last week required a walker in addition to the exoskeleton to get around. He progressed to crutches for his Dec. 13 walk. Semel said the plan is for Durso to continue using the device for several months to gain a better understanding of the health benefits and the impact it has on a patient’s gait.

“I think I was a little skeptical because you realize people always tell you there’s going to be advances, there’s going to be this and that in the future,” Durso said. “But when you see this — I actually get up, I actually walk, I gave my sister a hug for the first time in eight years face to face — it’s pretty emotional and empowering, and it’s just exciting to see where the future is going to go with this technology.”

It was an emotional day for the members of the Durso family in attendance. Durso’s older sister, Jessica Giovan, fought back tears trying to describe seeing her brother walk again for the first time in eight years.

‘It’s just an incredible feeling to be up there and be walking again — putting weight on your legs … each step is kind of like a leap of faith.’

— Greg Durso

“I just saw him look so proud and happy,” she said. “He works so hard at everything he does, so to see him put one foot in front of the other, literally, was just unbelievable … the person you see now is the person he has always been. He has not, for one second, wavered in his personality since the accident. In fact, he has only increased his perseverance and his humor, and he lives everyday to make everyone around him feel like it’s okay.”

His dad, Richard Durso, said he couldn’t have imagined he’d be sitting where he was, watching his son walk, when he heard the news of the accident eight years ago. He credited his son’s positive attitude for keeping him on track. His mom, Jean Durso, called what she saw “unbelievable.”

Durso has competed in Iron Man races and marathons in his life — the former both pre and post accident — and said he hopes to be able to regain some of that lifestyle in the future.

“I love to do athletic things. I mean, it could be anything. I just want to be out there, have fun and live my life the way I want to do it,” he said. “For me that’s enough.”

The Indego devices cost about $80,000 each.