Burn patient in Saginaw sets sights on 5K run

Mike Koury
Associated Press

Saginaw Township — The last thing Lisa Novotny remembered doing April 18 after getting home from work was walking over to her wood-fired boiler system in her garage.

She then woke up by the stove and heard firefighters going in and out of the house before passing out again.

The next memory she has is waking up from a medically induced coma at St. Mary’s of Michigan Medical Center in Saginaw roughly two weeks later.

Novotny, 47, and friend Tim Reynolds were injured when the boiler exploded in the garage of Novotny’s home, near the northern Michigan community of Hillman.

Novotny was critically injured. Reynolds, 22, died from his injuries.

“My first thought was, ‘Was Tim alive?’ ” she said. “My other first thought was, ‘Where’s my arm?’ ”

As a result of her injuries, Novotny went through 27 surgeries with seven doctors. Some of the operations included having her left arm amputated twice, first to her elbow and then her shoulder; facial reconstructive surgery, including placing her left eye back into the socket; three wound vacuums placed into her left legs and her right big toe amputated.

“I guess that’s one of my thoughts, too, when I woke up, ‘Am I ever going to be able to walk again?’ ” she said.

Now, almost 10 months after the explosion that nearly took her life, Novotny not only is walking again but also has set herself a new goal: to run and complete a 5k race.

After more than a month of bed rest at St. Mary’s, she was transported to MagnumCare of Saginaw for physical therapy.

Director of rehab Valerie Palmatier and physical therapist Gina Roka have been helping Novotny over the past eight months. Both said when she first got to rehab, she was in rough shape.

“Probably one of the worst traumas I’ve experienced, as far as how independent she was prior to the level of injury she had,” Palmatier said.

Palmatier and Roka started physical therapy immediately, working with Novotny on bed mobility and sitting tolerance. Because of the level of Novotny’s injuries, Roka said doing something such as rolling in her bed was work because she was in so much pain.

“It took four people to sit her up on the edge of the bed the first time,” Palmatier said.

Palmatier said it took about a month to get Novotny to the point where she was able to stand on the parallel bars by herself.

“And then it progressed her to just a few steps on the parallel bars,” Roka said. “Everyone’s clapping and people are crying.”

Roka and Palmatier were amazed by how much progress Novotny made in such short amount of time.

“The steps that she made were absolutely unheard of,” Palmatier said. “She was so incredibly motivated. And every day she blew us away. It was awesome to watch.”

By the end of August, Novotny ditched the walker and was able to move independently throughout the building.

To witness Novotny’s rehabilitation has been a motivator for others at MagnumCare, including Rita Horn.

“She went through so much. Kind of makes what we’re going through look possible to conquer,” she said.

Horn has congestive heart failure and a blood disorder that swells her legs, and is at rehab physical therapy until she can build enough strength to take care of herself at home.

It was during October, Roka said, when Novotny approached her with the idea of wanting to train to compete in a 5k race. “I thought, how fast I came along with the rehab here, I think, I want to try and do a 5k. The therapists have motivated me a lot,” Novotny said.

Novotny doesn’t know when she’ll run her 5k, but is aiming toward October, when she thinks she’ll be ready.