John Berkery with Molly Dunsworth, assistant director of rehab and speech therapist

What would life be like without the ability to eat and drink?


Unfortunately, this scenario happened to John Berkery, a 68-year-old resident of St. Louis, Missouri. He experienced a battle with nasopharyngeal cancer, which led to complications like shortness of breath and pneumonia.


After being hospitalized, Berkery came to The Westchester House in Chesterfield, Missouri, for help in recovering and regaining his independence. When he arrived on Sept. 12, 2018, he was on a feeding tube and suffering from weakness and poor balance.


Physical, occupational and speech therapists worked with Berkery five days a week to retrain him in his daily movements and activities. Physical therapists did exercises with him, including on a special crosstrainer at the center, to help him increase his strength, endurance and balance. Occupational therapists helped him remaster his self-care skills, and speech therapists treated him for his swallowing deficits using The Guardian Way®, a dysphagia (swallowing impairment) treatment approach that uses neuromuscular electrical stimulation.


“John’s motivation and determination to improve his quality of life was inspiring,” said Molly Dunsworth, assistant director of rehab and speech therapist. “He always stayed focused and worked on tasks/exercises outside of therapy time as requested.”


Berkery completed PT and OT and returned home on Oct. 16, independent in his mobility and activities of daily living. He returned as an outpatient for continued speech therapy three times a week through March 15, 2019.


“The Westchester House therapists gave me my life back,” said Berkery. “I arrived in a wheelchair and had been using a feeding tube for a year and a half. I wondered would I ever play golf again, would I ever travel again, would I ever eat normally again. I left on my own two feet. I was able to drive myself, go shopping and clean my house. I was also on the road to eating again. Thanks to the encouragement and technique of Molly, I now eat full meals. And I played golf!”


About his stay at the facility, Berkery added, “I always felt like I was more than just a patient, that the nurses and aides really cared about me. After I had graduated from wheelchair to walker and would walk around the facility, I would consistently hear words of encouragement from staff who didn’t really interact with me or know me. It is a positive, caring environment.”


Berkery’s cancer is currently in remission.