STANDING TALL: Read Phyllis' Balance Rehabilitation Story
Date: 12/6/2017
Balance team helps Phyllis reclaim stability, confidence, and quality of life.



Phyllis Gotwald was out for a morning stroll when she suddenly felt as though the world was spinning. “It came out of nowhere,” she recalled.  “I started swaying and was so dizzy I couldn’t walk, or even stand.”  Alone and afraid, the 69-year-old Yardville resident struggled to reach a nearby bench so she could lie down and call for help.

The episode prompted Phyllis to visit an urgent care center, where doctors suspected a common balance disorder that occurs when crystals migrate into the ear canals.  However, when initial treatment failed, her primary care physician referred her to specialists at Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital Hamilton’s Balance & Hearing Center, which provided the advanced expertise and services to restore Phyllis’s balance and quality of life.

Understanding Balance Disorders 

Balance disorders, which strike about one in three Americans, are characterized by dizziness, vertigo and other symptoms that cause individuals to feel as though they are moving, spinning or floating when they’re actually still.  According to Dean Drezner, MD, an ear, nose, and throat physician at Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital Hamilton (RWJUHH), balance problems are complex and often challenging to diagnose.  “Balance can be affected by multiple conditions, including neurologic issues, muscle weakness, vision deficits, medication, even aging,” he asserted.  “The majority of cases, however, are related to the inner ear or processing in the brain.”

“The balance system, or vestibular system, is like a three-legged stool supported by the ears, eyes, and awareness of one’s body position,” explained RWJUHH audiologist Lorraine Sgarlato, AuD. “If any of those ‘legs’ sends the wrong signal to the brain, balance is compromised.”

For many patients, like Phyllis, balance loss can be debilitating while increasing risk for falls and injury.

Advanced Testing & Treatment 

Phyllis found help at RWJUHH, which recently opened a Balance & Hearing Center on the hospital’s campus.  Uniquely comprehensive, the program brings together all of the clinicians and resources necessary to accurately diagnose and treat balance and hearing impairments.

To start, Phyllis was evaluated by Dr. Drezner, who ordered an MRI, and Dr. Sgarlato, who performed a series of balance-related tests, including videonystagmography (VNG) to measure inner ear function and eye movement.  Results uncovered a small, benign tumor in Phyllis’s left ear canal along with vestibular and visual weakness, which were contributing to her symptoms.

“When I got there, I couldn’t even walk down the hallway and started to cry,” said Phyllis.  “The staff assured me everything would be okay.”

Phyllis’s doctors customized a treatment plan that included eye exercises, balance training, and other therapies under the care of senior physical therapist Ketki Vyas, PT, DPT, who is specially trained in vestibular rehabilitation.

“Balance can have a big impact on one’s health,” noted Dr. Vyas.  “Our goal is to resolve symptoms that interfere with safety and quality of life, restoring the patient’s ability to move with confidence and offering strategies to prevent falls.”

Back on her Feet

After seven treatment sessions, Phyllis’s vertigo was gone, enabling her to regain her stability and independence.  As she continues to build strength, Phyllis looks forward to resuming her fitness routine and the activity she loves most – walking in the park.

“It’s a blessing to have Robert Wood Johnson in my community,” she added.  “The hospital got me back on my feet... and enjoying life again.”

Find Your Balance

Do you suffer from dizziness, vertigo or other balance problems?   Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital Hamilton can help restore your functioning and quality of life.  Our new Balance & Hearing Center offers a comprehensive, multidisciplinary approach to evaluating and resolving balance and hearing disorders.  All services are centralized in one convenient location, so patients receive quick, easy access to our team of experts – including ear, nose and throat physicians, an audiologist, and specialized physical therapists – along with cutting edge diagnostic testing and treatment, from balance training to hearing aids.  

To learn more, visit or call (609) 245-7390.

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