Meet Dr. "L"
Lagniappe Hospital physical medicine team helps patients regain their life skills, inspired by a physician who has faced the same challenges as his patients
By Mary Ann Van Osdell
Patients and staff at Lagniappe Hospital’s Center of Rehabilitation pay the highest compliments to their director of rehabilitation. Dr. Frank Livingstone has made quite an impression.
Lagniappe’s facility has offered comprehensive rehab services since 1997. Specialized programs are developed for each patient to assist that person in achieving the maximum level of independence in the shortest amount of time. Programs are designed to address the redevelopment of physical and cognitive skills as well as the emotional, social, recreational and education needs of patients. These programs are available for stroke, brain injury, orthopedics, spinal cord injury, arthritis, neurological disorders, amputation and traumatic injuries.
Livingstone knows full well what that is like. Two weeks prior to high school graduation, after receiving an alternate nomination to the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, he was in a serious car accident which left him in the hospital "five months to the hour."
Livingstone was thrown out of a car onto another car, breaking all of the lumbar vertebrae and being paralyzed from the waist down, initially. When all was said and done, he was left with only 35 percent use of his left leg and no functional use of the right leg, as a result he utilizes a wheelchair for mobility.
He recalls the entire rehab. program at the university hospital where he was a patient as being somewhat dehumanizing and impersonal, but enjoyed one particular physiatrist. Among the dozens of physicians he saw at the teaching hospital, the one who stood out was genuine, communicative, anticipatory and empathetic. This man impressed Livingstone even more through the years and the thought of being like him grew once Livingstone decided to enter medicine.
Shortly after his hospitalization, Livingstone attended the University of Washington for six quarters before flunking out. This was during an angry period in his life, he remembers, saying he enjoyed shooting pool too much. Livingstone later got bored working for a corporation, and decided to seek a career that would be more exciting than the diesel parts business.
At age 24 he decided to get his life I order and apply himself. "I excelled and graduated with honors." Livingstone almost became a marine biologist before being accepted to medical school.
He got a Bachelor of Science in 1976, M.D. in 1980 and Master’s Degree in Rehabilitation Medicine in 1983, all from the University of Washington in Seattle.
In the first week of medical school he recalls meeting the chief of rehab and asking for a spot in the three year physical medicine and rehabilitation internship and residency program. Livingstone became board certified in that field in 1985.
He started the rehab program at St. Elizabeth Hospital in Yakima, Wash.,from scratch in 1983 and did somewhat the same four and a half years later at St. Mary-Corwin Regional Rehabilitation Center in Pueblo, Colo. In another four years he built a rehab program at Eastern Idaho Regional medical Center in Idaho Falls. He left there to get out of the cold. Livingstone was recruited to Shreveport to "oversee the big picture."
Dr. Frank Livingstone, Lagniappe Hospital director of rehabilitation medicine, checks physical therapy progress for patient Lessie Lang, of Shreveport, assisted by Shanna Johnson, M.S., P.T. In addition to supervising their rehabilitation, Livingstone provides additional encouragement to patients since they know that he has personally experienced the same challenges they now face.
At Lagniappe, Livingstone keeps the team focused using a transdisciplinary approach. The team includes physical, occupational, recreational and speech therapists, rehab nurses, clinical psychologists, chaplains and social workers.
"We’re all in it together and work toward the same goals," said Livingstone. He says the staff is dedicated and gets satisfaction from patient progress. "We’re not just punching a time clock. We have a relationship with patients when they are at the absolute lowest point in their lives. Their lives have been changed significantly, the wind knocked out of their sails. We get to play a part that allows them to regain confidence and fill their sails again." Charlie Simmons, O.T., calls Livingstone sincere. He said he is very straight forward and doesn’t beat around the bush. When making rounds, Livingstone is personable and calls everyone by name. "He can joke with patients and get serious with them," said Simmons.
The focus is for the "most efficient and efficacious rehab outcome," said Livingstone. His favorite part is interacting with patients everyday. He either "pats them on the back or kicks them in the po po" or both - whatever they need.
"I watch them almost invariably get better. Some are in the jaws of death, unable to breath on their own and I see them go home after watching them day by day take a step at a time and climb the mountain of adversity that they are facing."
In occupational therapy, patients work with the staff to regain the dexterity needed for the day-to-day tasks of life, from making coffee to making the bed. In the kitchen area of the occupational therapy department, Alma Doan, of Princeton, rediscovers the pleasure that comes with baking a fresh batch of muffins, assisted by Charlie Simmons, L.O.T.R.
Patient Alma Doan says Livingstone came to her rescue. :I will always be indebted to him."
Ronisa Mathews, P.T. technician, calls Livingstone a motivator. "He is an inspiration to me. Patients can look at him and say, ‘if he can do it, I can too."’
Livingstone admits there is obviously a connection he can make with his patients that ambulatory doctors may not. "I’m at their level. It’s eyeball to eye ball. I don’t tower over them."
He adds, "No patient has ever said to me, ‘it’s easy for you to say,’" because they realize Livingstone has been through similar difficulties personally.
He says it is particularly rewarding to see patients months after they regained their quality of life, especially ones who had negative or defeatist attitudes, which is the most discouraging part of the work that he has to deal with. Part of the art of rehabilitation, Livingstone says, is getting into patients’ heads and finding out where their buttons are. "A de-energized person can be pushed, prodded and finessed to realize there is a light at the end of the tunnel."
Livingstone specializes also in electrodiagnosis and forensic rehabilitation. In forensic rehab, Livingstone helps to establish extent of disability and life care plans for plaintiffs and defense attorneys.
His certifications include the American Board of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, the American Academy of Pain Management and the American Board of Forensic Examiners.
In his spare time, Livingstone enjoys motorcycle riding on his Harley with a sidecar, scuba diving, skeet and trap shooting, and wheelchair tennis. He has a son Jason, who is in the sixth grade.
Livingstone says that families go through difficult times when their loved ones are in a rehabilitation program, but by being made part of the team and working together, they can get inside the ring and experience and rejoice together upon release after the several weeks of hospital stay that is normally necessary.
"Then they’ll experience a new beginning."
The goal is to help the patient reach the maximum recovery possible. That includes relearning many skills normally taken for granted, such as climbing steps. Patient Harold Jackson, of Shreveport, climbs the practice steps as Teresa Courtney, P.T., checks progress.