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One step at a time

"Poco a poco." In English this means "little by little." For Rosita Herrera, who experienced an ordeal that left her comatose for 11 days and physically incapacitated for five weeks, these three little Spanish words mean everything.

These were among many Spanish phrases Health Science Center physical therapy student Antonio Treviño used to communicate a sense of ease and comfort to Herrera as he helped her recuperate from injuries she sustained in a major car accident.

Photo of Rosita Herrera with physical therapy student Antonio Treviño

On April 21, three weeks after Herrera underwent open-heart surgery, she and her husband, Mario, were driving to her doctor's office for a routine visit when a car struck them head on. Rosita suffered injuries to her head, chest and leg. Her already delicate heart condition worsened, causing her to have circulation problems in her leg. Doctors found Rosita's condition so critical when she arrived at the hospital that they decided to induce a coma so they could operate. While in a coma, Rosita experienced a stroke. After 11 days, Rosita awoke from her coma to find the entire right side of her body paralyzed. The stroke also had robbed her of her ability to speak and think clearly.

While she once spoke English and Spanish fluently, she could only speak Spanish.

After spending five weeks in the hospital, Rosita was transferred to a local rehabilitation center where she met Treviño.

"He is a lifesaver!" Rosita exclaims. "I had to relearn the basics like walking and talking - things I used to take for granted. But Antonio was so patient with me." Rosita said Treviño's sense of humor and ability to speak Spanish eased her tensions.

"He'd lift up his left leg and say, 'up with the good, down with the bad,' referring to my good left leg and to my paralyzed right leg when teaching me how to take steps," she said.

Herrera also translated for Rosita, who had trouble understanding the English spoken by the rehabilitation center staff. "Antonio reassured me by saying 'todo va bien,' which means everything is going to be fine."

Little by little, Rosita relearned to walk and to speak English. Today, Rosita still does not have full sensation in her right foot. But she says she's looking forward to the day when she can dance again.

Treviño said working with Rosita was a joy and a tremendous learning experience. "My instructors in the physical therapy program at the Health Science Center really prepared me well for what I encountered with Rosita's situation," he said. Treviño said he plans to specialize in in-patient rehabilitation when he graduates from the PT program in May.

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