Recipients by year


Madonna Rehabilitation Hospitals established the Chairman's GOAL Awards in 1994 to honor patients for outstanding courage and determination as they completed their rehabilitation, returned to their communities and resumed their life roles.

Photographs and stories of these patients are on display at both campuses as an inspiration to everyone.  Starting in 2017, Madonna will recognize patients from both locations with events in Lincoln and Omaha.


Lincoln Campus

For the past three years, Lincoln Fire & Rescue Station #7 has been a partner to our pediatric patients recovering at Madonna. What began with a single visit to a four-year-old boy who loved firetrucks, has expanded to touch so many other lives.

Station #7 has coordinated hands-on demonstrations with their fire trucks and equipment, bringing countless smiles to young patients and their families. Other compassionate acts of the rescue team include participating in Madonna’s annual pediatric Summer Fun Festival, donating fire helmets to kiddos and catering holiday meals to the unit.

This special partnership with the men and women of Station #7 has played a major role in the recovery of our youngest patients. We are delighted to celebrate and honor what it means to Madonna.

2017 GOAL Award Community Partner Lincoln Fire & Rescue Station #7 from Madonna Rehabilitation Hospitals on Vimeo.

Lincoln Campus

On Feb. 24, 2015, 10-year-old Mya was involved in a serious car crash on her way home from school. The fourth grader was a passenger in a car that was rear-ended by a semi truck. Mya sustained a traumatic brain injury from the violent impact and was life-flighted to Children’s Mercy in Kansas City, Missouri. She spent two months in a coma and on a ventilator in the intensive care unit before transferring to Madonna. Mya’s mother Amber and her two siblings, moved to Lincoln to provide daily support during her recovery.

When Mya began the intense pediatric Rehabilitation Day Program, she could barely sit up in her wheelchair. Starting with baby steps, like swallowing, was hard, but Mya never gave up. “Even on the tough days, Mya managed to smile and keep pushing on,” said Kristen Miles, a RN in outpatient programs. The young Kansan reached a significant milestone the day she ate her favorite oriental cuisine, orange chicken, from Panda Express.

As Mya recovered her voice and cognition, her fun-loving personality resurfaced, too. Teachers in Madonna’s Kit Scott Therapeutic Learning Center kept her on track with her studies. Her young brain rewired through repetitive therapies, including aquatic therapy, bowling in rec therapy and specialized technology like the VisiPitch. Mya’s voice progressed from whispering a couple words to holding a conversation. Today, Mya is a curious 12-year-old who loves school, swimming and riding horses. Most of all, Mya just enjoys being a kid again.

2017 Lincoln GOAL Award Recipient Mya Diacono from Madonna Rehabilitation Hospitals on Vimeo.

Lincoln Campus

At 28-years-old, Jessica Lindsay suffered a severe brain stem stroke. After a life-saving procedure at Nebraska Medicine, Jessica could only blink her eyes and was “locked-in” her body. The rare syndrome affects about one percent of stroke survivors and renders people unable to move or talk, but aware of what’s happening around them. When Jessica admitted to Madonna’s Specialty Hospital, she was emotionally and physically fragile.

The young wife and mother’s biggest motivators were her family and her Madonna team. Through Jessica’s own grit and determination, she relearned to breathe independently, eat, drink and talk again. “She just never quit and that’s what’s amazing, she just kept fighting,” said Rhiannon Svitak, speech languag pathologist. Jessica continues to make strides in her mobility and is grateful for life.

2017 Lincoln GOAL Award Recipient Jessica Lindsay from Madonna Rehabilitation Hospitals on Vimeo.

Lincoln Campus

Ruth Meador was told to begin planning her husband’s funeral in December 2015. Rob, a devoted husband, father and grandfathe, experienced complications leading to right side heart failure. The 56-year-old field engineer had never had a single health issue in his life. Doctors administered aggressive clot-busting drugs that tackled Rob’s blockage. Days later, he experienced bleeding on his brain and a stroke. Rob was in a coma for three weeks at Bryan Medical Center before admitting to Madonna. “He was on a ventilator, unable to communicate or move his body,” said Colleen Sankey, occupational therapist.

During his four month rehabilitation, Rob moved through the entire continuum of care. Regaining his mobility was a slow process. Rob logged miles on the Lokomat, a robotic-treadmill that helped stregthen his legs and refine his gait. When Rob graduated to a walker and took his first, tenative steps, his therapists broke into applause. With Ruth by his side, Rob hit milestone after milestone and refused to give up. Today, Rob is completely independent and proof that hard work pays off. He’s quick to credit his nursing and therapy teams for their constant encouragement. “I like to think I’m Madonna strong,” said Rob.

2017 Lincoln GOAL Award Recipient Rob Meador from Madonna Rehabilitation Hospitals on Vimeo.

Lincoln Campus

Kathy Steever survived a workplace shooting on Feb. 12, 2015, that killed a coworker and left her paralyzed with a traumatic brain injury. Following surgery at Sanford Health in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, and a lengthy recuperation, Kathy began the next phase of recovery at Madonna.

Coming to terms with the horrific tragedy that robbed her mobility was tough. At Madonna, Kathy discovered a whole new way to live life. Physical therapists trained Kathy to use a power wheelchair navigated by sips and puffs through a tube. Relying on her voice to direct her daily activities, Kathy’s primary goal was “to connect with the world.” Her occupational therapy team introduced voice-activated technology for Kathy’s smartphone to call, text or FaceTime. The adaptive technology uses the Amazon Alexa software to sync with Amazon Echo, a hands-free speaker, to control her Smart TV. This innovative solution restored an crucial piece of her independence. Through all the trials, Kathy remains upbeat. She returned to nursing care in South Dakota with the long term goal of returning to the family farm. Kathy’s determination to embrace life fully is an inspiration to anyone she meets.

2017 Lincoln GOAL Award Recipient Kathy Steever from Madonna Rehabilitation Hospitals on Vimeo.


The Community Partner Award recognizes significant involvement by a community group or organization for its contributions to Madonna’s core values and commitment to patient independence.

For many years, Nebraska Husker players, coaches and administrators have been regular visitors to patients recovering at Madonna. Entire teams have adopted patients both during and after their stay, and have often invited them on campus and given behind-the-scenes access that regular Husker fans only dream of.

“We value the longstanding partnership with Madonna which has been mutually beneficial—teaching our student athletes incredible life perspective while providing hope and encouragement to determined patients,” said Keith Zimmer, senior associate athletic director-Life Skills and N Club.

When Contessa “Tess” Siders watched her 80-year-old grandmother recover from a stroke, she never dreamed it would happen to her. But just a few weeks later, on Sept. 25, 2014, Tess was at home with her husband, Aaron, when she exhibited classic stroke signs and collapsed. Aaron watched his 33-year-old wife
struggle to speak as he quickly dialed 911. Tess was stabilized at St. Luke’s Regional Medical Center in Sioux City, Iowa, before her admission to Madonna.

The stroke ravaged the right side of Tess’ body, restricting her mobility and speech. Tess’ radiant smile and positivity remained intact and fueled her daily, intense therapies. Giving up wasn’t an option for the determined young woman. Aaron and a legion of family and friends offered their continual support.

Tess created mini-steps toward major goals. Those first tentative steps empowered her toward milestones, like walking from her room to the therapy gym. The turning point in her recovery was confronting her stroke. “Just because you’ve been knocked down, doesn’t mean you can’t rebound from it,” said Tess.

Communication was one of the toughest obstacles for the outgoing Iowan. “Doctors couldn’t pinpoint why I had an ischemic stroke,” said Tess, who struggled with aphasia, a communication disorder caused by damage to her brain. Tess worked through the frustration of fumbling for words and understanding written and spoken language. Hours of repetitive therapy helped refine her speech and thought-process.

“Tess is a truly inspirational woman,” said Kasia Richardson, speech-language pathologist. “She never let her post-stroke deficits stand in her way of recovery.”

Within six weeks, Tess regained movement in her arm, passed her driving evaluation and swapped her wheelchair for a cane. On Nov. 21, 2014, Tess met her final goal to walkout the front doors of Madonna.
Tess volunteers at a local hospital and continues to progress in outpatient therapy. Aaron and Tess helped create a stroke advocacy group in their community to assist stroke survivors and their loved ones. The young couple is the sympathetic voice of experience for people recently impacted by stroke.

Tess remains a fighter and pushes herself every day. She enjoys walks with Aaron, riding horses, boating and hopes to return to riding her motorcycle. If anyone notices she can’t do something, Tess responds emphatically, “I can’t do it … YET!” She won’t let the stroke limit her hopes and dreams. Tess lives by her
creed: Don’t Mess with Tess!

James collapsed on a high school football field on Sept. 12, 2014, playing the game he loves. His helmet collided with an opponent’s hip, causing a life-threatening acute subdural hematoma. First responders rushed the senior linebacker from Olathe, Kansas, to Overland Park Regional Medical Center, where he underwent emergency surgery to stop the bleeding and swelling around his brain.

When he awoke from a five-day coma, James raised his right hand to sign “I love you” to his parents, Patrick and Susan. After 18 days in intensive care, James began his lengthy recovery at Madonna.

James started from square one, tackling basic skills like swallowing, speaking and standing. Progress was slow and often frustrating, but his competitive spirit and faith kicked into high gear.

As James grew stronger, intense, daily therapies became the young athlete’s new game plan. James relearned to tie his shoes, brush his teeth and worked hard in speech therapy to express himself. Family, friends and his Madonna team were his cheerleaders throughout his rehabilitation. James’ motto became his recovery battle cry: Teamwork Makes the Dream Work!

Witnessing James’ fun-loving personality resurface was another form of healing. He often inspired his therapy team by singing a Zac Brown Band tune during a challenging Lokomat® session. James always gave 110 percent and never lost sight of his goals. On Feb. 14, 2015, James celebrated a big milestone—weaning from the feeding tube—with a steak dinner at a local restaurant.

In the outpatient Rehabilitation Day Program, James bonded with a whole community of patients. His physical, social and cognitive skills soared in group activities like cooking and bowling. James championed many other patients on their recovery journeys.

After eight months of tough, repetitive therapy, the young athlete was walking. In May 2015, James achieved his goal to walk across the stage when he graduated with honors from Olathe East High School.

Two years post-injury, the young man who took his first step at Madonna is killing it in CrossFit classes— lifting 85 pounds—and loves cheering on his beloved sports teams. James splits his days between local outpatient therapy and college classes where he maintains a 4.0 GPA.

James enjoys sharing his courageous journey and has been honored at many public events. His closing inspirational message is powerful: “Love one another; you may not know what struggles others are battling.”

Kallie Zitek is a bright, active, young girl who loves life. As a toddler, Kallie’s independent spirit was severely tested following a horrific car accident.

On Dec. 6, 2009, Kallie and her family were traveling back to their home in Seward after visiting friends in western Nebraska. Their car hit a truck head-on in a snowstorm. Kallie’s father, Jim, was killed instantly. Her mother, Niki, seven-months-pregnant at the time, escaped serious injury. Kallie, then two years old, sustained a traumatic brain injury during the violent impact. She was stabilized at CHI Health Good Samaritan in Kearney, Nebraska, and then transferred to Children’s Hospital and Medical Center in Omaha, where doctors placed her in a drug-induced coma.

Days after the accident, Kallie’s massively swelling brain required surgery. The determined toddler inspired her family and friends to adopt the motivational chant“Go, Kallie, go!”

In January 2010, Kallie transferred to Madonna’s Pediatric Specialty Hospital. The youngster was weak, barely moved the left side of her body and couldn’t walk. Therapists introduced E-stim, electrical stimulation, to “wake-up” Kallie’s muscles. Following weeks of repetitive therapies, Kallie gradually moved from pulling herself to a sitting position to standing independently.

Another major hurdle for Kallie was relearning to eat. Kallie’s sense of taste had changed; a common aftereffect of brain injury. “We used different methods of encouragement to help Kallie regain her eating habits, such as tea parties and picnics with other children,” said Jody Macke, RN. On February 22, Princess Kallie wore a tiara and ate a piece of cake to celebrate her third birthday.

Wearing an ankle orthotic greatly increased Kallie’s mobility and balance. March 1 marked a recovery  milestone as Kallie became her own cheerleader, chanting “Go, Kallie, go!” and took her first steps.

After ten weeks, Kallie joined her mom and new baby brother, Lucas at home. She continued to soar in the intensive outpatient Rehabilitation Day Program. Aqua therapy, sessions on the treadmill and practicing language skills, prepared Kallie for preschool.

Through the years, Kallie continues to shine. The nine-yearold is starting fourth grade and lives life fully. She struts her stuff in dance, plays softball, basketball and snow skis. In addition to Lucas, Kallie loves playing big sister to little sister Kinley, born after Niki married a special man, Trevor, in 2013.

Not a day goes by that I don’t thank God and Madonna for Kallie’s recovery,” said Niki, who’s excited for her daughter’s future. Go, Kallie, go!

Rodney Guthmiller is grateful to be back on his feet after a work-related accident resulted in a traumatic brain injury. An over-the-road truck driver, the South Dakotan’s life took an unexpected turn on January 13, 2016. Twelve-hundred miles from home, Rodney fell five feet while preparing to unload his trailer—the back of his head taking the brunt of the fall. Losing consciousness, luckily, his fall didn’t go unnoticed. Paramedics were on the scene within minutes. At the local hospital, doctors determined Rodney suffered a skull fracture and had significant bleeding both in and around his brain. The fall also affected his cervical spine from C3 through C7. Due to the severity of his injuries, Rodney was placed in a medically induced coma and airlifted to Portneuf Medical Center in Pocatello, Idaho. Doctors cautioned his brain injury was among the worst they had ever seen. Ruby Guthmiller said the family relied on faith and prayers. “We just surrendered to Jesus.”

Rodney remained in the ICU for two weeks before being transferred to Madonna Rehabilitation Specialty Hospital. Within days, Rodney’s tracheostomy was switched out and eventually removed; he received a vocal collar and started forming words. Through intense therapy and a personal sense of drive, he transitioned quickly to walking, feeding himself, smiling, and telling his wife, “I love you, sweetie,” on their 40th anniversary.

By two weeks, Rodney transferred to acute rehabilitation for longer therapy sessions. There, he continued making significant gains with speech, occupational and physical therapy. He made lasagna for the first time in the Independence Square kitchen, honed his driving skills on Madonna’s driving simulator and practiced getting into and out of an 18-wheeler as part of the TherapyPlus Worker Re-entry Program. Throughout the ordeal, Rodney’s work family provided support when needed, and more importantly, friendship.

Now Back home, Rodney’s kind, soft-spoken attitude has remained as has his faith and his love of family. He works hard to keep his lawn pristine, helps out with his children’s family and their activities and continues to work toward getting his 18-wheeler back out on the road. “I’m trying to support my family and provide for them the best I can. As long as I don’t feel any physical pain, I’m going to keep pressing on and moving forward.”

Rodney Guthmiller from Madonna Rehabilitation Hospitals on Vimeo.


On May 21, 2011, Jenifer Axman completed her freshman year of college and celebrated with friends in Hays, Kansas. Driving home around 1 a.m.,
the 18-year-old fell asleep at the wheel. Her car veered across lanes, went airborne and landed on its top. Airlifted to Wesley Medical Center, Jenifer was numb with morphine when doctors explained she’d never walk again. “I thought, ‘well, okay then’ and drifted back to sleep,” said Jenifer, an outgoing young woman with striking blue eyes.
Jenifer chose Madonna for rehabilitation based on its reputation for treatment of young adults with spinal cord injuries. She arrived on May 26, in a back brace, frustrated at having to rely on others. This quote became her mantra:
“God doesn’t give us what we can’t handle, God helps us handle what we are given.”
Jenifer’s goals were to be psychologically and physically strong. “I had to learn how to live again,” she said.
“Discussions with the neuropsychology team helped Jenifer gain perspective on her new life. Physical and occupational therapies taught the young woman the skills to live independently.
Within three months, Jenifer moved into an apartment in Hays, Kansas and went back to college. After her first solo trip to Walmart, she called her mom and excitedly shouted,
“I did it!” Confident in her abilities, Jenifer worked at the local implement dealer. This summer, she navigated the airlines to join her family on a cruise.
In December 2015, Jenifer will graduate from college and is pursuing internship options. Nothing is out of her realm
of possibility.

Isra Somanas is an outgoing 26-year-old with an inquisitive mind and active body. Four years ago, the Bangkok, Thailand, native moved to Nebraska to pursue a mechanical engineering degree at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Isra is also an avid cyclist and dancer –passions that nearly cost him his life.
On July 15, 2013, Isra was riding his bicycle home from a night of swing dancing when he was hit by a car in Lincoln. Isra was rushed to Bryan West Medical Center where doctors assessed his injuries – a broken pelvis, collapsed lung and a traumatic brain injury.
Isra’s parents immediately flew from Thailand to support their son. More than 1,000 people worldwide offered encouragement on a Facebook page, “Praying for Isra.”
Within two weeks, Isra woke from a medically-induced coma and transferred to Madonna. Technology and the expertise of Isra’s care team challenged him mentally and physically. Teachers in the Kit Scott Therapeutic Learning Center kept Isra focused on his academics. During 45 days of inpatient therapy, Isra progressed from being on life support to dancing in therapy. Regaining his memory and cognitive skills boosted his self-confidence. In September, 2013, Isra began Madonna’s TherapyPlus Outpatient Rehabilitation Day Program and within two months had achieved all his goals.
Isra has resumed his active lifestyle and proudly accepted his college diploma this past May. Grateful for life, Isra credits his recovery to supportive family, friends, his Madonna team and ultimately, to God. “It proves He answers prayers.”

Caleb Lindhorst keeps beating the odds. On Dec. 21, 2013, the then 20-year-old Lindsay, Nebraska native was riding home with friends when the driver lost control on loose gravel. The car slid into a ditch, rolled over and Caleb was ejected out of the car. The traumatic accident twisted Caleb’s brain stem and doctors at Nebraska Medicine in Omaha gave him a 10 percent chance of waking up.Three weeks later, Caleb transferred to Madonna still comatose.
When he woke up 39 days later, the University of Nebraska-Lincoln (UNL) student couldn’t hold his head up and used a whiteboard to communicate. Caleb’s parents, Mike and Sherry, and a huge community of extended family and friends, offered prayers and support. The smallest achievements were celebrated. “It was very small steps,” said Sherry, recalling her oldest son relearning to breathe and eat independently.
An interdisciplinary team spent eight weeks helping Caleb rebuild the damaged pathways in his brain. On the Lokomat®, Caleb progressed from being limp with no body control to walking upright, confident and smiling.
After a stay at Quality Living, Inc., a post-acute
rehabilitation center in Omaha, Caleb returned to Madonna’s TherapyPlus Outpatient Rehabilitation Day Program. The agricultural engineering major worked hard to transition from a walker to a cane, moved into a house and returned to college—earning a 3.84 GPA. He is on track to graduate from UNL in December 2016.
Throughout his recovery, Caleb’s confidence has been the catalyst to reaching his goals. As he continues rehabilitation, Caleb’s candid remarks often provoke laughter from his therapy team. What is the secret to his positivity? Caleb says country singer Rodney Atkins sums it up best: “If you’re going through hell, keep on going, don’t slow down, if you’re scared don’t show it.”

As the survivor of a violent EF4 tornado, John Dunning has shared his story countless times. What never changes is the gratitude in his voice for a second chance at life.

On Oct. 4, 2013, Dunning, the chief information officer (CIO) for Wayne State College, was driving home from a business trip with a colleague. Aware of tornado warnings for Wayne, Nebraska, the duo was eight miles from town when a rain-wrapped storm unleashed. “I drove to a ditch and we bailed out of the truck as the windows imploded,” said John. As he ran to safety, the funnel’s high-speed winds slammed a commercial-sized steel dumpster into John’s side and crushed it. Pelted by flying debris, John suffered multiple fractures, lacerations and a traumatic brain injury.

After surviving a 12-day coma, surgery, skin grafts and weeks of hospitalization at Mercy Medical Center in Sioux City, Iowa, John tackled three months of specialized rehabilitation at Madonna. With his outgoing personality, John easily bonded with staff and other patients. His wife, Ann, and mother, Carol, provided unwavering support during John’s recovery. Gratitude and humor fueled his long and often arduous journey. John’s infectious positivity boosted the morale of other patients and families facing their own daily struggles.

John resumed his life roles as husband, son, friend and dedicated CIO with a renewed spirit. Acting in community theater feeds his creative side. “At Mercy, the ICU staff did a very good job of keeping me alive,” said John. “The staff at Madonna filled me with hope and convinced me I could live again.”


Trent Borland, a construction surveyor from Long Jack, Missouri., enjoyed running and spending time with his wife and his two young daughters. He noticed weakness in his right arm and leg and thought it must be part of turning 40 years old, but he eventually saw his doctor, who suggested an MRI. The test revealed a large spinal cord tumor requiring immediate surgery.

Following the procedure, Trent experienced respiratory failure and was unable to move his body below his neck. He was dependent on a ventilator to breathe and required a feeding tube for nutrition. The formerly active man who cheered for his girls at their sporting events required complete medical care, 24/7.

When Trent arrived at Madonna, he struggled to envision his life dependent on a ventilator. However, with the strong support of his family and his Madonna care team, he regained hope as he learned how to use a head-array wheelchair for mobility and voice activated software to conduct his work via computer.

The diaphragm pacer completely changed Trent’s future in a very positive way. The device helps certain individuals who are ventilator dependent to breathe freely by activating the person’s diaphragm. Dr. Fiske successfully implanted the pacer at Saint Elizabeth Regional Medical Center and Trent worked hard with his Madonna team to rehabilitate from the vent and breathe independently. He even participated in community outings and gained enough strength to exercise on the FES bike and standing frame.

“Once I got the pacer, I felt so much more free,” said Trent. “I could do things that healthy people could do and not be hooked to the ventilator all the time. I can’t express enough how it changed me. I went from a point where I didn’t really want to live to a point where I’m grateful for being here. There’s so much I would have missed out on, being a father to my girls and husband to my wife. I’m just grateful for the new chance.”

Trent now works from home, cheers on his girls at sporting events and is busy with family and church activities.

In July of 2011, Katie Felton, a vibrant 26-year-old, was tired, losing weight and couldn’t think clearly. Her symptoms were misdiagnosed as a viral illness. Within three months, Katie tested positive for West Nile virus
that progressed into a life-threatening lung condition, Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome (ARDS).

Katie’s parents rushed their daughter from their hometown of Ord, Neb., to St. Francis Medical Center in Grand Island. Near death, Katie received the Last Rites from a Catholic priest before being transported to the University of Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha. The survival rate for ARDS patients is not high. “We’ll do everything we can,” the surgeons told Katie’s mother, Becky. Doctors saved Katie’s life, but after one month of rehabilitation at an Omaha facility, Katie was discharged while unable to walk and reliant on others for care.

Physically and emotionally drained, the formerly spunky girl from the Sandhills needed a miracle. A Facebook message from Madonna nurse Kristen Miles to Katie’s sister convinced the family to bring Katie to Madonna Rehabilitation Hospital. Within hours of her evaluation, Katie was admitted, and spent five months of intensive inpatient rehabilitation reclaiming her life.

“My team couldn’t have been a better fit,” said Katie of the staff that patiently taught her to sit, stand and eventually walk. “I hit the therapy jackpot and grew such special bonds with these people.” On Sept. 19, 2012, a determined Katie transferred to outpatient therapy and dug her heels into another year of therapy.

Despite significant nerve pain, Katie remained focused, encouraged by her Madonna care team, her incredible family and the league of friends sporting “Team Katie” shirts. The first time Katie walked, all the therapists stood clapping, many with tears in their eyes. “Nobody wants Katie to succeed more than Madonna does,” said Becky.

Katie continues to thrive in therapy back home in Ord. There is confidence in each step of her cowboy boots and the tone of her voice. Throughout her incredibly long journey, Katie’s trademark smile and positivity never
once wavered. A remarkable young woman, Katie continues to inspire everyone she meets. “If I can beat the odds on this, I can do anything,” said Katie.

As a combat engineer, Garrett Girardin surveyed roads for hidden bombs while on tour in Iraq and Afghanistan. He made it through three tours of duty without a scratch and returned to Junction City, Kansas, to rejoin his wife and son in December 2009.

Driving to work at the Fort Riley Army Base on Jan. 10, Garrett’s Jeep slid on the icy road, crashing down an embankment. Garrett sustained a severe traumatic brain injury and was transported to Stormont-Vail HealthCare in Topeka, Kansas. The neurosurgeon told Garrett’s wife Carly that Garrett may not survive surgery. Carly replied to the doctor, “You don’t know my husband.”

Garrett arrived at Madonna barely out of a coma, with a feeding tube, totally unable to care for himself, move or talk. Garrett’s care team immediately began working with him, getting him out of bed and starting physical, occupational, speech and cognitive therapies. It was a long and difficult road to recovery.

“I was just like the koi (tattoo) on my arm,” said Garrett. “I had to swim upstream, overcoming all the obstacles.”
Garrett’s therapists used all of the technology available to help him regain his abilities: the Lokomat for walking, the FES bike for regaining his arm strength and the NuStep to help him strengthen his legs. Speech was the most difficult therapy for Garrett since his vocal chords were paralyzed in the accident and the brain injury affected his ability to verbalize his thoughts.

Garrett’s goal was to be able to walk down the aisle to renew his wedding vows with Carly on their 10th anniversary. It’s a goal he achieved, including being able to recite his vows. Garrett is now back at work on the base and loves to take care of things around the house.

“I’m here. I’m alive and keep on, keepin’ on. I feel like I was at rock bottom and the only place to go is up,” said Garrett.

Rod Krogh keeps God in the center of his life and credits the Creator with his miraculous recovery from a serious car accident. “It’s truly God’s work,”said Rod, 46, who survived numerous brain surgeries and became familiar  with medical jargon like “craniotomy” and “bone flap.”

On Oct. 27, 2011, Rod was driving to pick up his wife, Dawn, and 4-year-old son, David, for a trick-or-treat outing in Lincoln, Nebraska. Rod was forced into oncoming traffic and his car collided with a cement truck. Ejected on impact and thrown 30 feet from the vehicle, Rod sustained a traumatic brain injury (TBI). He spent 18 days in a medically induced coma at Bryan West Medical Center in Lincoln. Doctors told Dawn that 98 percent of people in a car accident of that severity don’t survive and of the two percent that do, only a fraction recover. Rod’s TBI would require numerous surgeries.

Dawn, a professor of music, softly sang to Rod, and offered continual support to the love of her life. Rod’s family, his friends and church family, offered daily prayers of support. His coma gradually lifted and on Nov. 10, Rod mouthed the words, “I love you,” to Dawn. His six-month rehabilitation journey began five days later at Madonna Rehabilitation Hospital.

Rod’s goals included returning to his life roles as a Nebraska legislative aide and a loving husband and father. An intense daily regimen of therapies - speech, occupational and physical - were tailored to help Rod succeed. “I knew recovery would take time and having my own positive nature was necessary,” said Rod. The road to recovery was paved with small milestones, like Rod’s sense of humor resurfacing, along with his expertise as a wordsmith and problem solver. Rod progressed quickly, amazing his therapists and family. By Dec. 24, Rod received an early Christmas present when he discharged home in time to attend the holiday church service with his family.

A month later, Rod returned to work part-time at the Nebraska State Capitol. Through Madonna’s Rehabilitation Day and outpatient therapy programs, Rod refined his cognitive and communication skills that were compromised by the TBI. “Rod brings his strong work ethic, positive attitude and humble spirit to every therapy session,” said Gail Finsand, speech-language pathologist.

Nearly two years after his horrific accident, Rod has resumed his full-time career as head staffer for Sen. Bob Krist and enjoys a fulfilling family life. There are no traces of the once debilitating TBI. Rod is eternally grateful
for his recovery. “God answered those prayers.”

On Easter Sunday, April 4, 2010, four-year-old Owen Keenan was playing in his front yard in Storm Lake, Iowa. The young boy with dark hair and chocolate brown eyes ran over to his cousin’s skateboard and sat down on it, zooming into the street and into the path of an oncoming car. The car struck Owen, causing a severe traumatic brain injury.

Owen was lifeflighted to the University of Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha where the pediatric trauma team worked to stabilize him. He relied on a mechanical ventilator for breathing and medications to help reduce brain swelling. After three weeks of intensive care, Owen was stable enough to transfer to Madonna Rehabilitation Hospital.

“After we met the staff and toured Madonna, we knew this was the right place for Owen. We wanted him in a place with other kids and with a strong pediatric program,” said Karen, Owen’s mother.

In only a few days, Madonna respiratory therapists helped wean Owen from his ventilator, but he still faced a long recovery. Unable to focus, move his limbs, talk or sit upright, Owen was like a newborn. Sessions of physical therapy, occupational therapy, speech, physiatrist consults and daily nursing care became Owen’s new routine.

“We’re so glad Owen received this level of intense therapy. We liked the experienced staff, the technology and having doctors who were forward thinking. Madonna is a very progressive place,” said Owen’s father, John.

With functional electrical stimulation therapy, Owen regained the use of his right hand. Madonna physiatrist, Dr. Adam Kafka, treated the tone in Owen’s thumb, forearm and calf with Botox, reducing spasticity and improving his flexibility. And, Owen’s therapy team helped him improve his walking ability using the Lokomat, a robotic rehabilitation treadmill.

Three years after his injuries, Owen is now a busy grade-schooler who loves to help his parents at their convenience store and play with his brother and sister. He’s won medals for Boy Scout events, plays basketball and enjoys drawing and other art projects.


Madonna honors Dr. William Thorell, Director of Cerebrovascular Neurosurgery for The Nebraska Medical Center and Associate Professor of Neurosurgery at the University of Nebraska Medical Center, with the Champion of Rehabilitation award.

Dr. Thorell understands the vital role of rehabilitation in helping people achieve the greatest level of independence following a brain injury, stroke or other type of disabling injury or illness. He has referred many of his patients to Madonna and works closely with Madonna staff to ensure quality and continuity of care.

In addition to maintaining a general neurosurgery practice, Dr. Thorell is very interested in vascular disorders of the central nervous system, such as stroke, subarachnoid hemorrhage from cerebral aneurysms, vascular malformations, and occlusive disease of the carotid and vertebral arteries.

Dr. Thorell helped develop the Nebraska Stroke Center, an inter-disciplinary stroke team at the University of Nebraska Medical Center/Nebraska Medical Center. The Nebraska Stroke Center is the first nationally certified stroke center in the state of Nebraska.

Gary Hausmann has savored life from the cockpit of an airplane for nearly 35 years. As chief commercial pilot for Werner Enterprises since 1999, Gary had the uncanny ability to instinctively react to situations — a skill that helped save his life in a motorcycle accident on Sept. 1, 2006.

Gary, then 51, was riding his motorcycle from the airport hangar in Omaha, Neb., to his hometown of Blair. A motorist approaching Gary on the two-lane highway was suddenly rear-ended by a truck, pushing her car into Gary’s path. He quickly locked the brakes and jumped off his bike as it vaulted over the car. Gary’s body slid underneath and his head, encased in a helmet, slammed into the car’s frame. Gary was airlifted to the University of Nebraska Medical Center with multiple injuries, including a diffuse axonal brain injury, among the most serious types of traumatic brain injury.

Reneé Hausmann was told her husband would need extensive rehabilitation. “When I came to Madonna, it just felt right,” said Reneé. On Sept. 16, Gary was admitted in a wheelchair, with a feeding tube and barely speaking. During his initial evaluation, Gary couldn’t identify an apple or write his name. His Madonna team set goals to restore the pilot’s physical and cognitive independence. Nursing staff weaned Gary from the feeding tube and a walker soon replaced his wheelchair. “Initially, I could only navigate three steps,” said Gary.

Never a quitter, Gary poured his energy into intensive physical, occupational and speech language therapy. Gary baked cookies in the therapy kitchen and maneuvered in and out of a car on his path toward recovery. A therapy outing to Duncan Aviation rekindled his love of flying. “Being around the airplanes brought Gary back to life,” said Reneé, as her husband’s progress soared like one of his jets.

By mid-October, Gary discharged from Madonna — walking, talking, and with his cognitive skills intact. Gary continued working on skills in outpatient therapy in Omaha and began the lengthy process of regaining his pilot’s license. In 2011, Gary passed his Class One medical test and resumed his position at Werner. He has no residual side effects from the brain injury. Gary serves on the Nebraska Brain Injury Advisory Council and is an outspoken advocate for motorcycle helmet legislation.

In Nov. 13, 2004, 21-year-old Briana Bartlett was driving on a gravel road near Beatrice, Neb., when she had to swerve to avoid striking a car that had veered into her lane. Her car left the roadway and rolled, while the driver of the second vehicle fled the scene. Briana was airlifted to BryanLGH Medical Center in Lincoln, Neb., where she endured several surgeries to try to repair a compression fracture of her lower spine.

When she arrived at Madonna, Briana had lost feeling from the waist down and couldn’t sit up or walk. Additionally, neurogenic pain from her incomplete spinal cord injury and post traumatic stress from the accident plagued her recovery.

Briana’s team collaborated to address all of her complications and supported her through rigorous therapies, including body-weight-supported treadmill training, physical and occupational therapy and counseling.

By the time Briana progressed to outpatient treatment, she could walk with a cane and set her sights on living independently and working toward her bachelor degree. Her journey was not without complications. Briana developed foot wounds and continued neurogenic pain that required powerful medication, which left her physically and mentally drained.

“I just had to keep moving,” said Briana. “I wasn’t going to let the accident define my life. The accident made me broaden my horizons.”

With a new pain medication and three years of outpatient rehabilitation to improve her mobility, Briana graduated with a bachelor of arts degree from Concordia University, was accepted to the University of Nebraska Medical Center’s College of Nursing and graduated with a bachelor of science in nursing degree in May 2012.

In addition, Briana became a certified trainer for NOAH’s Assistance Dogs – canines that are specially trained to help provide stress relief to people in crisis situations. She also pursued equestrian competition, ranking nationally in Grade III paradressage competition and qualifying for the paralympic trials.

Briana recently married her longtime boyfriend, Steve Bartlett, and accepted a nursing position with Johnson County Hospital in Tecumseh, Nebraska. She and Steve bought a home on an acreage where they reside with their horses and therapy dogs.

Bob White of Lincoln, Nebraska, was returning from a hunting trip on Dec. 23, 2007, when a drunk driver rammed his car into the trailer Bob was examining on the shoulder of Interstate 80. The impact pinned Bob between the trailer and his vehicle, causing a skull fracture, broken pelvis and severely injuring his left leg. Bob, then 53, spent more than six weeks at Bryan LGH Medical Center, lost 54 pounds, endured 18 surgeries and the amputation of his left leg.

Bob had one main goal — to officiate at the U.S. Olympic Track and Field Trials — and he was determined to reach it. “He had a mission, even in the hospital bed, that his intent was to go to the Olympic Trials,” said his wife, Susan.

Bob, an avid runner, dedicated teacher and track coach, chose Madonna’s outpatient program, TherapyPlus, for intensive rehabilitation training with his new prosthesis. His therapy team devised a program around his passion for running. His therapists used cutting-edge technology, such as the Proprio® 4000, to restore Bob’s sense of balance. Bob logged miles walking Madonna’s hallways and tackling the outdoor terrain.

As Bob conquered milestones, his therapists kept developing ways to challenge Bob. “They were creative with what can get you through your new lifestyle,” said Bob. In addition to the scheduled therapy, Bob made a commitment to walk 13,000 feet on his own after each session. Susan encouraged and celebrated every step of his recovery.

By the summer of 2008, Bob achieved his goal to officiate at the U.S. Olympic Track and Field Trials in Eugene, Ore. Bob stressed the importance of rehabilitation and how the therapists changed his life. “I’m using their rehab principles and everything they taught me.”

Bob has returned to the classroom as a social studies teacher at Lincoln High School and resumed his coaching duties. His expectations for students and athletes run high. “After what I’ve been through, I tell students that I don’t hear ‘no.’” Following a year of rigorous rehabilitation, Bob no longer needs a cane. He recently repeated his performance as a referee at the prestigious Olympic Trials. “What a godsend the therapists were in helping me face my new life perspective,” said Bob.

When Bretton Cole was just two years old in 2002, he fell from his cousin’s shoulders and sustained a traumatic brain injury. He was lifeflighted to Mercy Hospital in Sioux City, Iowa, where he remained in intensive care for 10 days. The once active and outgoing toddler couldn’t walk, talk or move his right side.

Bretton’s rehabilitation care team at Madonna developed a customized pediatric rehabilitation program to help him overcome the challenges of his injuries and reach normal developmental milestones for his age. He worked hard in physical, occupational and speech therapy, slowly regaining his mobility and language skills.

Bretton progressed to outpatient rehabilitation at Madonna TherapyPlus, where he continued improving his skills for the next seven years. His therapists incorporated his love for music and sports into his therapy sessions, using musical instruments and games to develop his strength and motor coordination.

“Rehabilitation has changed my life because I wouldn’t be at this point right now without it. I’d still be in a wheelchair,” said Bretton.

Bretton’s mom, Krissy, commented, “Everyone at Madonna cared about him and his outcome. They worked hard getting him to be as normal as possible.”

Now a seventh grader, Bretton is active in band and other school activities. “I like to write music. I play the piano, French horn and I sing. I’m learning the guitar.” “I think creativity comes to me really easily,” added Bretton. Bretton also enjoys sports, like cross country running and soccer.

“I never doubted for a minute that he was going to be exactly who he was supposed to be,” said Krissy. “When they said he wasn’t going to make it, that wasn’t an option. God had a great plan for him. He wasn’t meant to be here for such a brief amount of time. He loves everyone and he’s impacting people through his experience and his optimism.”