Jeff Schmidt and Tom Johnson are close in age with unique personalities combining wit and optimism. Their other common denominator is being stroke survivors who bonded during their recovery at Madonna.
Tom is 57 years old and enjoys a rewarding, but physically demanding job in maintenance for the National Resources District in York, Neb. On March 19, Tom experienced two intense dizzy spells during work. He shook it off and disregarded the gradual weakening of his left hand and arm. By the day’s end, Tom’s left foot was dragging; identical to what his mother experienced during her stroke. “But, I was in total denial and never told my coworkers what was happening,” said Tom. The next morning, Tom was in the emergency room at Annie Jeffrey Health Center in his hometown of Osceola where doctors diagnosed his clot stroke.
Jeff, 55, a successful self-employed entrepreneur, lives a busy life with his wife, Anne and teenage son, Jerome, in Lincoln, Neb. Despite a recent Type 2 diabetic diagnosis, Jeff considered himself healthy. He’d never experienced an overnight hospital stay. “I thought I was invincible,” said Jeff, who ignored small stroke warning signs prior to his attack on March 25. Early that morning, Jeff didn’t feel right and within hours was slurring his speech. An MRI at Bergan Mercy Medical Center in Omaha revealed a stroke had paralyzed the left side of Jeff’s body.
Tom and Jeff transferred to Madonna just a few days apart. They struck up a conversation during dinner and realized their strokes were similar. The two men had adjoining rooms and became fast friends. “We kind of played off each other with humor,” said Tom. Their friendship evolved through exchanging laughs, feelings and gauging each other’s progress. “It helped so much to have a friend to bounce things off of,” said Tom.
Amy Goldman, stroke program manager, lists fostering peer support as a key component of Madonna’s Stroke Rehabilitation Program. “Stroke survivors and caregivers describe an overwhelming sense of hope and encouragement from sharing their stories and supporting each other,” said Amy. Experiencing a common circumstance or predicament can be a powerful component of healing. “He’s like a brother to me now,” said Jeff, referring to his relationship with Tom.
Therapy sessions for Tom and Jeff included technology like the Proprio 4000, E-Stimulation, FES bike and the Body Weight Support Treadmill (BWST). Both men developed a love/hate relationship with the BWST. Their results were fantastic, but wearing the harness felt uncomfortable. To liven things up, Tom and Jeff, and another stroke patient, Greg, played a prank on the therapy team. One evening, the trio wrapped the BWST with “wet paint” tape and adorned it with caution signs. It didn’t take the therapists long to figure out the culprits and everyone had a good laugh. “It was a stress reliever for us, but the staff needed it, too, as they deal with stressful situations every day,” said Jeff.
Having a stroke changed Tom’s outlook on life. “When your body starts giving you warning signs, pay attention and don’t take life for granted!”
Jeff’s priorities shifted too. “Mundane things don’t matter as much now.” Both men can walk independently with a cane. They’re making plans to keep in touch. “It’s amazing the camaraderie you form here,” said Tom.