John Abkes describes himself as the main character in a story God is telling, with family, friends and a mass of health care professionals in supporting roles. In this part of his story, the Omaha, Nebraska, man is recovered from a spinal cord injury caused by a rogue wave slamming him into the ocean floor while he was vacationing with his wife, two grown children and their spouses in Cabo, Mexico, in December 2016. John recalls not being able to breathe. His daughter and son, Jennifer McIvor and Luke Abkes, pulled him from the water, and Jennifer, a registered nurse, began CPR.
“I remember just doing my compressions and pleading to God that this not be the last memory I have of him,” Jennifer said. He survived and after being stabilized at a Mexico hospital, was flown to Methodist Hospital in Omaha. A week later, John began his recovery journey in acute rehabilitation at Madonna’s Lincoln Campus.
“I could really just move two feet and one finger; that’s where we started,” John recalled. He remained determined to reclaim his life. “The turning point for me was getting that attitude that said this isn’t going to beat me.” John discovered a special connection with his Madonna team who introduced aggressive physical, occupational and aquatic therapy to meet his goal to walk again.
Technology like the Lokomat, a gait retraining treadmill, and the Proprio, a computerized platform, helped John’s legs regain strength and balance. John’s wife Julie, and their children participated in therapy, encouraging him along the way. John’s “framily”—his newfangled word for close friends—rallied behind him, too. Three months later, John walked out the doors of Madonna. He refined his independence completing a year of outpatient rehab at Madonna’s Omaha Campus.
In December, he took center stage dancing in a play at his church. Today, John is working independently and takes nothing for granted. “Faith, family, friends, the rest is just noise,” John said. “I’m really trying to make sure my calendar reflects my priorities, more so now than it ever has.” He and Julie have two granddaughters that reinforce his new outlook on life. “I used to think in weeks or maybe months; now it’s days. God has given me today to enjoy.”