From Bedridden to Half Marathon Training: TBI Success Story at Sweere Clinic
How one woman is thriving despite her Traumatic Brain Injury with the help of Dr. Erik Reis at the Sweere Clinic, and why she’s fighting to ensure other women can access this care.
Paula Walters is an impressive woman by any standard. She works 24-hour shifts as a paramedic without missing a beat. In her free time she is training for a half-marathon and she has plans to backpack through the Rockies.
What makes her even more impressive, if that’s even possible, is that a few years ago, she was so unwell that she couldn’t drive or work. With the help of Dr. Erik Reis at the Sweere Clinic, she’s reclaimed her life, and now works to help others do the same.
Walters is a survivor of domestic assault. She has a traumatic brain injury from near-fatal strangulation in 2006, though she wasn’t diagnosed until 2019.
In 2006, Walters was a fulltime firefighter paramedic with no medical problems. But after the domestic violence incident, she started “a downward spiral of collecting medical problems.” Between 2006 and 2017, she was diagnosed with neurocardiogenic syncope, POTS, mastocytosis, fibromyalgia, irritable bowel syndrome, anxiety, depression, and more. She was struggling to see and think clearly, and battled suicidal thoughts and addiction.
She was starting to feel unsafe driving, and in 2017 rear-ended another car. She went to her primary care doctor explaining again how serious her symptoms were. That’s when Walters had her first MRI. The results showed what looked like a brain injury, though her neurologist diagnosed her with multiple sclerosis (MS).
“I was at rock bottom. I thought ‘I’m 45 years old, I can’t drive, I can’t work, and they’re telling me I’m gonna be on disability for the rest of my life.’”
Like many people, Walters turned to the internet for answers. She found a Facebook group about TBIs and concussions. The people in the group were describing all of her symptoms.
The admin of the group mentioned a functional neurology center in Minnesota, and Walters called, saying “I know this is a long shot, but is there any way you could help someone like me?”
In June of 2019, she traveled from Ohio to Minnesota for eight days of treatment. Between two visits she made progress, but in October of 2020, she got COVID-19 and went back to square one.
She was referred to Dr. Erik Reis at Sweere Clinic, a chiropractor who graduated from NWHSU and is board-certified in functional neurology. She went to see him in February of 2021. “[That appointment] validated me,” she shared. “From the very beginning he listened and reassured me that what I was feeling was correct.”
Walters spent a week in Minnesota working with Dr. Reis. Throughout the week, Dr. Reis customized treatments to Walters, listening to her and pushing her. He also prepared her to continue the work at home.
“He equipped me differently,” Walters shared. “Everything he taught me I can do at home. So when I have bad days or things happen to me, I don’t have to run out there to get treatment.”
Now, Walters and Dr. Reis meet monthly via telehealth. In these appointments, he’s able to adjust her exercises and help her navigate any roadblocks (for example, getting hit in the head by a patient during a 24-hour shift).
Walters is doing the work to feel better. She follows a careful diet and starts her mornings with cardio. She does her exercises everyday, most involving moving and focusing her eyes. When she meets with Dr. Reis, she’s excited to be pushed further.
“Some people hear about [my experience] and think they can just go [to Dr. Reis] and get healed. No, it’s work. You don’t get a paycheck without putting in the time. It’s the same with brain injury recovery.”
Dr. Reis practices in Sweere Clinic, a holistic health center where the providers believe that patients are active participants in their own health. Providers in the Sweere Clinic often treat patients who have tried many things with no success. They use technology and specialized treatment methods to help these patients find relief, and they work together to ensure that each patient gets the care they need. Walters is an exemplary patient, taking her role in the healing process seriously, and seeing incredible results.
“Paula is a great example of hard work paying off, specifically when paired together with individualized therapies, nutritional protocols, and personal recommendations to maximize her overall quality of life,” said Dr. Reis.
“A lot of patients find themselves working hard, but might be focusing on the wrong exercises and tools, which is why running objective neuro-orthopedic diagnostics and investigating blood markers can be such a game-changer for patients who continue to struggle with symptoms.
“There is no better feeling than kicking patients out of my office because of the progress they’ve made and the outcomes they’ve achieved, especially when they continue to get better without having to see me. I hope my future providers carry that same mindset for me if I ever need to seek treatment for my personal health.”
Today, Walters says “I am the best that I have probably ever been in my life.”
She is back to working 24-hour shifts. Before, she would struggle after a shift. Now? “I worked a 24-hour shift last Saturday and I was up the whole 24 hours. I was able to come home and get on my treadmill, do my eye exercises, take a two hour nap, and wake up and function all day Sunday.”
Walters is active in domestic violence survivor circles, and her peers have noticed the change. “These people have worked with me from before I [saw Dr. Reis]. So they’ve actually gotten to watch this process. So now they say ‘we need to find a way to get that for other survivors.’”
That’s exactly what Walters is working on now: bringing awareness to the issue, and helping connect women to the care they need.
Walters speaks nationally and connects with survivors. She’s seeking ways to make the care she received accessible to more women. “I keep trying to figure out how I can get Dr. Reis’ services to more people,” she shared. “There are thousands of women out there like me.”
Her message to these women? “Trust your body, and trust your gut. Keep searching.”
Maintaining her health will be a lifetime project for Walters, and she’s motivated to continue improving. “I feel that my ceiling is limitless as long as I stay dedicated to it. I think I haven’t even begun to see what I’m going to do.”
She’s grateful to Dr. Reis, and makes a clear distinction: “It’s not that he fixed me, but he equipped me. My brain injury is not going to go away, and I’m always going to have issues, especially as I get older. But he equipped me and educated me. Now I have a better quality life because of him. Because he helped me, I can pour that into others when I do what I do, taking care of people.”