Last December, Ronald Pruett of New Philadelphia suffered a brain stem stroke that left the right side of his body paralyzed.

Today he's walking unassisted. And his handshake warrants a "bone-crushing" rating.

Pruett credits his progress to a team of "doctors", not medical doctors, but doctors of physical therapy at Union Hospital. Indeed, eight staff physical therapists hold doctorate degrees in the hospital's Physical Therapy Department.

Pruett says it was their skill and caring that helped him on the long road to recovery.

"I'll have to admit, when this happened I was doubtful I'd ever regain the use of my right arm and leg again," Pruett said.

After just a few days of intensive occupational and physical therapy at the hospital's Inpatient Rehabilitation Center he was able to take steps with the aid of a walker and with help from the therapists. He was able to go home, but he remained weak and continued to have right-sided numbness.

Pruett stayed with it. Following discharge from the hospital he continued rehabilitation as an outpatient at the Union Hospital Healthplex.

"I started seeing a difference fairly soon," he said. "I eventually met and even surpassed the goals my therapists had set for me."

"My nose itched and without thinking which hand I was using, reached up and scratched it with my right hand. That's when it really hit me how far I'd come."

Therapist Nick Immel of Sugarcreek has worked closely with Pruett throughout his therapy at the Healthplex.

"It's always rewarding when we see patients like Ron progress physically, functionally and from a confidence standpoint," he said.

"Ron has always maintained a really upbeat attitude and did not let what happen to him define who he was. That made my job a lot easier."

Immel is among eight staff therapists working in the Physical Therapy Department who hold the degree of Doctor of Physical Therapy. Rick Cole, director of Rehabilitative Services, says the DPT degree is an achievement for the staff and a real benefit for their patients.

"Our therapists pursued the advanced degree on their own, which I believe serves as a great example of our staff's desire to provide the best care possible," Cole said.

Physical therapists work with patients to help them improve mobility, decrease pain and restore function following surgery or an injury. Common conditions treated by a physical therapist include neck, back, and joint pain, arthritis, fibromyalgia, neurological problems, dizziness, and many other conditions that affect quality of life.

Therapists Becky Allen of Canton and Jeremy Klaserner of Dover recently earned their doctorates in physical therapy.

"The total amount of knowledge that's needed to treat the whole body is expanding," Klaserner said.

"As that happens, the academic requirements expand as well. We want to be able to provide the best possible care to our patients and to exceed their expectations. We have excellent, state-of-the-art facilities, but it is the dedication of our therapy team to the well-being of all our patients that makes the programs so successful."

Pruett agrees.

"They are genuinely concerned about me," he said. "They've pushed me to work hard but also made sure they didn't do anything to hurt me.

"I went from being unable to walk to driving the car again and getting back to work. It's amazing."

Pruett actually is back to what he terms his "semi-retirement" status, working every morning at his New Philadelphia business -- Commercial Roofing -- and attending with his wife, Sharon, as many of his grandchildren's ball games as possible.

Pruett plans to continue using the hospital's Healthplex as a member rather than as a patient.

"As far as I'm concerned, the hospital has always been super. When you expand that out to the Healthplex and to all the other facilities, it truly is a great asset for the community."