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Madonna Rehabilitation Hospitals

Former NFL strength coach battles toughest opponent yet through rehabilitation

February 01, 2022

To prepare for the Super Bowl, football players need to be physically and mentally ready. For 35 years, Dave Redding ensured these elite athletes stayed in elite shape. He started his career as a strength and conditioning coach in 1976 with the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, moved around the college circuit, then landed with the National Football League. He worked with the Cleveland Browns, Kansas City Chiefs, the Washington Football Team, San Diego Chargers and the Green Bay Packers – who won a Super Bowl during his tenure.

“The job was pretty challenging because athletes aren’t always responsible, so they need me to push them and get them to work out,” Redding said. “Thankfully, I mostly dealt with hard workers who made my job easy and wanted to be better.”

Redding said he started experiencing things like shaking, balance difficulties and depression in 2000. His official diagnosis came in 2005. In 2011, Redding retired and returned to Nebraska to face his toughest opponent yet – Parkinson’s disease. He immediately began therapy as needed. In 2022, an exacerbation of the disease prompted him to come to Madonna Rehabilitation Hospitals as an inpatient.

“It was devastating to go from the career I had to needing rehabilitation myself because I was always the one helping people get into shape,” Redding said.

Luckily for him, Redding now has his own team of experts cheering him on. His care team has pushed him to work hard and celebrated each of his successes. Even with progressive, neurological diseases like Parkinson’s, rehabilitation can help patients maintain the function and independence they have, as well as educate them on new ways to do daily tasks, working around their deficits.

“In Dave’s case, he was at home independently prior, so we’ve been working on getting him as close to that as possible,” Jena Roeber, an occupational therapist at Madonna, said.

As an inpatient, Redding receives between three and five hours a day of physical, occupational and speech therapy. Madonna Physical Therapist Kara Tischer utilizes the LiteGait treadmill to help increase his balance and strengthen his legs. In occupational therapy, Roeber works with him on self-care activities like getting ready in the morning and strengthening his arms and hands. Speech therapist Katie Sassen has shown him different ways to communicate when his voice becomes soft and hard to understand, a symptom of Parkinson’s.

“One of the things we work on most is his volume,” Katie Sassen, a speech-language pathologist, said. “Due to Parkinson’s, his vocal quality is poor, resulting in difficult communication of his basic wants and needs. We have just started using a pocket talker device which is a microphone he hooks to his shirt so that a communication partner can then listen to him through headphones to help him communicate more effectively.”

Redding said he is very excited to use the pocket talker device with his grandchildren. He’s also eager to show off the progress he’s made.

“Dave is up for any challenge and pushes himself to the limit,” Tischer said. “Initially, he was experiencing freezing and weakness resulting in his knees buckling when he was walking. Now, he can be walking at an incline with ankle weights and stepping over objects. And, if he has set a time goal, he isn’t stopping until we get that time in.”

His rehabilitation may be tough, but the former coach wouldn’t have it any other way.

“I want it to be difficult because that’s how I make progress,” Redding said. “I need the challenge, and I like the challenge.”

While Redding knows he’ll be battling Parkinson’s disease for many years to come, he wants to thank everyone who has helped him during his time at Madonna.

“With this disease being very progressive, sometimes I feel trapped,” Redding said. “Sometimes, my brain doesn’t match up to what my mouth or body is doing. I really appreciate the people here because they understand that, and they’re working with me to navigate that.”

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