Eleven-year-old Jeromie Meyer is a national champion. He has a medal from the 2008 Junior Prep National Wheelchair Basketball title, which he and fellow Nebraska Red Dawg teammates earned in February 2008, to prove it. The hardware is tangible proof of the team’s efforts. Before the medal came things that can’t been seen or touched. Things like devotion, character, consistency, determination and focus.
“You work hard, and it pays off. You don’t slack off, and you sacrifice,” said Jeromie. Except, Jeromie wasn’t referring to his first-year success as a wheelchair basketball player. He was talking about his approach to rehabilitation. The same characteristics that separate mere athletes from champions are also present in the most determined patients at Madonna.
Like Jeromie, who continues to rebound from a spring 2007 crash when a drunk driver struck his bicycle, they refocus and set their sights on their goals.
On April 16, 2007, after receiving medical attention in|Omaha at the University of Nebraska Medical Center, Immanuel Medical Center and Children’s Hospital, Jeromie arrived at Madonna. He had sustained an incomplete T10 spinal cord injury and several other injuries, including broken bones in his left hand, right leg, left foot, a skull fracture, liver bruising, a dislocated shoulder and others. He had limited sensation and movement, but he worked with his therapists and nurses for hours every day, relearning to do the things that used to be part of his daily activities, like tying shoes, standing up and brushing his teeth.
Despite living more than 100 miles from Lincoln in Woodbine, Iowa, the decision to have their son receive care at Madonna was an easy one for “big” Jeromie and Staci Meyer. “It came down to being close to home, or choosing the best place possible,” said Staci. “The first day at Madonna was the only day that Jeromie didn’t have a session. The very next day, they had him working to get better,” recalled Staci.
Eventually, Jeromie was using the NU-step and the Partial Body Weight Supported Treadmill System (PBWSTS) to improve his trunk and lower body strength. He enjoyed land-based therapies, but admits time in the pool was one of his favorites. That is still true now that he’s an outpatient.
Jeromie completed his 2006-2007 school year in Madonna’s Therapeutic Learning Center (TLC). His best friend and older sister Bailee also attended the TLC so she could be close to her brother and the rest of the family throughout Jeromie’s rehabilitation.
The schedule was rigorous, and at times the reality of the situation had the family asking, “Why?” Why must the energetic boy with red hair and a curious sense of humor suffer as a result of the driver’s carelessness?
“I remember one beautiful day I was having a difficult time accepting Jeromie’s condition,” Staci recalled. “I was looking out Jeromie’s room at Madonna, and I just started to cry. Jeromie noticed and asked, ‘Why are you crying? It didn’t happen to you,” Staci said. “I told him I was sorry that he couldn’t do all of the things his friends could do,” Staci explained, “but his response surprised me. He said, ‘This was the hand that God dealt me. I have to play with it for now. I can’t change it…yet.’ Here was this 11-year-old boy telling me how it was, and he wasn’t feeling sorry for himself. It was amazing.”
“Why?” is a question many people in traumatic situations ask, but it’s the question “now what?” that champions ponder. Jeromie’s spirit of determination is just one reason that he is one of the 2008 Madonna Chairman’s Goal Award recipients. His answer to “Now what?” has him competing in adaptive sports and recreation activities and pushing himself to complete an extra two minutes on the PBWSTS or walking using tripod canes. As he continues to work in outpatient therapy, He’s realized never giving up is what continues to make him a champion.