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Rockin’ to the Top: Nurse beats crippling syndrome to reach goal

Posted on June 21, 2018

Rockin’ to the Top

Nurse beats crippling syndrome to reach goal

 Rhabdomyolysis. Not since nursing school had Nicole Burton heard that word, the medical name for a mysterious – and potentially fatal – muscle-wasting syndrome.

That is until last October, when the 30-year-old registered nurse learned it was why she was in a hospital bed wracked with pain and acute kidney failure and unable to walk or even scratch her nose.

Burton was an emotional wreck as muscles throughout her body disintegrated and were absorbed into the bloodstream, effectively shutting down her kidneys. But through time, tears, dialysis and rehabilitation at Patricia Neal Rehabilitation Center inside Fort Sanders Regional Medical Center, she literally “came out on top” after a very rocky climb.

After her initial hospital treatment at Parkwest Medical Center, Burton was admitted to PNRC. “At Patricia Neal, I would be a patient and in intensive therapy all day long,” Burton said. “And that’s what I needed to get back to being myself.”

She was still on dialysis, could not walk or feed herself, and had to be lifted to a standing position and turned to be put in a chair. Two days later, she was up and moving with a walker. Six days later, Burton left PNRC on a cane and was able to do everything except raise her hands higher than her face. Her recovery would continue with another month of dialysis and outpatient therapy.

Burton’s recovery was a tough climb – literally. “Before I got sick, one of my other co-workers had been bugging me for the longest time about going rock climbing with her. I was like, ‘You are crazy!’ I could never do that!” said Burton, a certified operating room and surgery nurse educator at Methodist Medical Center in Oak Ridge.

“But while I was sitting there in bed sick one night I decided that once I got better, I was climbing that rock wall,” she said.  “So once I got discharged from Patricia Neal in October and done with all my outpatient physical therapy in February, I went climbing – all the way to the top the very first time.”

“Nicole’s outcome is the result of the treatment of rhabdomyolysis by her acute care team and her physical rehabilitation by PNRC, but more importantly by her own determination and perseverance pushing through her pain, weakness and fatigue while listening to her own body,” Dr. Glass said. “She was also helped by the tremendous support of her family and friends.”

Four months later, Burton was totally recovered and on an indoor rock wall with her friend. “When I got to the top, I almost cried because it was such an accomplishment for me,” said Burton, who has since made her first outdoor climb at Ijams Crag. “It was very empowering to make it all the way to the top.”

Patricia Neal Rehabilitation Center is accredited by the Commission on Accreditation of Rehabilitation Facilities, an independent, nonprofit accreditor of health and human services. Learn more about PNRC at

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