A tornado left little more than the foundation of Anthony's home. She'll soon move into a brand new home, another step in her journey to regain her independence. (Source: The University of Alabama at Birmingham)
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BIRMINGHAM, AL (RNN) - Physical therapy assistant Penny Anthony knows all too well the pain and rigors of rehabilitation.
She has seen it from both sides - first as a therapist and then as a patient after she suffered horrible injuries in the April 27, 2011 tornado outburst that ravaged Alabama and left hundreds dead.
Until that day, Anthony was the one giving care - or an extra push - to patients working to get their mobility back. Now, she receives therapy twice a week at the very hospital where she used to help others.
"It has given me an understanding of not wanting to do therapy. Sometimes you just get too tired," she said. "People have asked me, 'Since you're a therapist, do you go home and do your exercises?' and I say, 'No,' because I'm a patient. As a therapist, I know I'm supposed to, but as a patient, you don't do them sometimes."
But her work these past 12 months speaks for itself. Anthony has come a long way from that day when rescuers found her unconscious, a block and a half away from her home after a tornado plowed through her Pleasant Grove, AL, neighborhood.
The twister left nothing but the foundation of her home. Mercifully, she can't remember much about the day that changed her life.
"I'm told they put me in the back of an ambulance and the [medic] said a prayer that I'd make it to the hospital," she said. "I was talking with a neighbor. When he saw me, he thought I was dead. My scalp was peeled backwards."
She suffered a brain injury, a spinal cord injury, and a shattered tibia. Doctors put a metal bar in her leg to hold it in place and part of her left ear was amputated.
"To this day, I do not know how many surgeries I've had. I know a few of them," she said.
She spent the next five weeks on a ventilator and was in a coma-like state through most of the summer. She woke up for the first time in early July, more than two months after the tornado, then went back to sleep until August.
"All these years, 11 years, I have been at Spain Rehab. I had treated patients who were just like me, who were unable to do anything at all. So I know how bad I was and how far I have come," Anthony said.
Since waking up, she's been rehabbing at the Spain Rehabilitation Center at the University of Alabama at Birmingham Hospital, where she is surrounded by friends and colleagues.
Outpatient physical therapist Brian King was a co-worker who is now part of her rehab team.
"We were devastated. I can still remember that day like it was yesterday," King said of the day they found out their friend was among the critically wounded.
"It was shocking to hear how injured she was. We work with people as injured as her and they don't always recover as well as she has."
By the time she hit outpatient therapy, King says she could walk 150 feet with a rolling walker, a step in the right direction toward reclaiming her life.
He and Anthony have been working on balance and strengthening exercises, which have increased her stamina and ability to get around. She now walks freely - and much farther - with the help of a cane.
The progress she's made, and perhaps the promise of what's to come, motivates her to keep putting one foot in front of the other.
"She's been to the work site [of her new home]. We got her up some stairs and through the dirt. She had to climb a little stepladder to step up into the house. That was something we never practiced in therapy," he said.
"It's rewarding being able to work with her, knowing I'm helping a friend," King said.
A year later, Anthony says she has a lot to be thankful for. She'll soon move into that brand new home and has been doing refreshingly normal things like picking out appliances and household items. She also recently started driving again.
"When I got into my car, I filled it up with gas. The last time I remember filling up my car with gas, gas was a dollar cheaper than it is," she joked.
After coming so close to losing everything, it's the little things that she savors - driving on her own, going to church, even household chores.
"Being able to take my own shower, washing my own clothes, the things you do every day. Oh my goodness, it's fun to wash clothes now," she said.
"Therapy promotes getting back to your independence, getting back to doing things as independently as you can. I'm getting back to what a normal life [looks like]."
King says there's no reason in the world she won't be able to continue making progress, one small step at a time.
"I don't see any specific limits for her. I think she'll be able to get back to doing the things she's always enjoyed doing," he said. "She's an animal lover. She enjoys working around her house and her garden and I think she'll be able to do all those things."
She hopes that someday she'll be able to trade in her role as patient Penny Anthony and once again return to being therapist Penny Anthony, bringing her recovery full circle.
Step by step, she's leaving the memory of April 27 behind.
And while hard work at therapy helps remove the physical reminders of that day, Anthony says sharing her story is helping heal the emotional scars.
"It's been an awesome journey and God continues to bless me and let me share my story. And I hope through all of this, it can be a word that helps somebody. That's all I want out of all of it, that I can encourage someone and give someone a positive reason to try one more day. Even if you don't feel like it, get up and try."
Copyright 2012 Raycom News Network. All rights reserved.
Monday, April 30 2012 12:17 AM EDT2012-04-30 04:17:45 GMT
Most of the homes along Highway 20 in Hillsboro that were destroyed by those deadly tornadoes have been rebuilt, but there's still a long road to recovery. Lawrence Davis Jr. didn't imagine April 27th,More >>
Most of the homes along Highway 20 in Hillsboro that were destroyed by those deadly tornadoes have been rebuilt, but there's still a long road to recovery.More >>
Sunday, April 29 2012 12:24 AM EDT2012-04-29 04:24:01 GMT
The road to recovery still a long one ahead for a Harvest family that lost two loved ones from the April 27 tornadoes. Misty Cornwell held a memorial Saturday afternoon to remember her 15-year-old daughter,More >>
The road to recovery still a long one ahead for a Harvest family that lost two loved ones from the April 27 tornadoes. Misty Cornwell held a memorial Saturday afternoon to remember her 15-year-old daughter, Katie, and her father, Harold Fitzgerald, who were both killed by the storm one year ago.More >>
Thursday, April 26 2012 5:30 PM EDT2012-04-26 21:30:15 GMT
An August 29, 2011 Gov. Robert Bentley announced the formation of the Tornado Recovery Action Council, or TRAC. The group of industry and government leaders had a simple mission; to help Alabama recoverMore >>
The Tornado Recovery Action Council of Alabama researched and developed 20 key ways to improve disaster preparedness in the state.More >>
With the cleanup process under way and the death toll holding steady, federal, state and local officials are teaming up to put the pieces back together for the broken communities slashed by last week's devastating tornadoes.More >>
Thursday, April 26 2012 5:00 PM EDT2012-04-26 21:00:16 GMT
On April 27, 2011, one of the most devastating tornado outbreaks in Alabama history left an unprecedented path of destruction through our state. Thousands of our citizens became heroes in the minutes,More >>
On April 27, 2011, one of the most devastating tornado outbreaks in Alabama history left an unprecedented path of destruction through our state. Thousands of our citizens became heroes in the minutes, hours, days, and weeks after the storms, aiding the injured, searching for the missing, and clearing debris.More >>
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