When an accident left Steve Skrzypek with a brain injury, he faced an array of challenges. However, his devoted wife Renae stood by his side through it all, from the emergency room to the ICU at Stormont Vail, in Topeka, Kansas to Madonna Rehabilitation Hospitals. After 27 years of marriage, Renae made a life-altering decision: to become Steve's full-time caregiver.
“I knew I had to pay attention so I could provide the care that he was going to need,” Renae said “Four hours after the accident someone had mentioned getting to Madonna. The ICU charge nurse immediately was saying, if you can get to Madonna, get to Madonna. Because they're the best, they will help him.”
Renae followed up on this advice. Steve soon arrived at Madonna Rehabilitation Hospital’s specialized brain injury program, where a holistic approach to care embraces not just the patient but the entire family. At Madonna, Renae's role as a caregiver evolved into an invaluable bond with Steve's care team.
“I think one of the biggest blessings of working with Steve and Renae was just seeing that they really did work as a unit,” Betsy Havekost, OTD, OTR/L, CBIS, a Madonna occupational therapist, said. “That she was just such an encouragement for him. She would advocate for him. And then she would also just laugh with him. He was just so appreciative and thankful for her to be here too.”
In the face of the unimaginable, familiar routines gave way to uncertainty. Renae embraced a steep learning curve, gained medical knowledge and adapted to Steve’s new normal. She not only stood by Steve's side in therapy but also learned to assist with his care, capturing moments of progress along the way.
“The whole accident, this whole situation has been overwhelming from day one,” Renae said. “And just the medical knowledge that I've gained learning all the PT and all the OT. The staff has always been very great about communicating what's happening, what we're doing and why we're doing it, and what to expect, [and] what could happen,” Renae said. “They knew I wanted to be involved and would answer questions, show me how to do the things I needed to do.”
According to Havekost, Renae’s commitment made a world of difference to Steve’s outcome.
“Without a caregiver and that support there, it just looks so different in how much progress you can continue to make on an ongoing basis,” Havekost said. “Because Renae was there every step of the way, Steve had an amazing outcome.”
A commute worth every mile
Steve’s and Renae’s journey continued through Madonna's continuum of care, from inpatient to an intensive outpatient rehabilitation day program. Steve would do hours of therapy a day but would live independently in our onsite housing with Renae. This way they were able to get the intensive therapy he needed but could go home to Topeka on weekends. Renae, despite the added responsibilities and a three-hour commute, saw it as a small sacrifice in exchange for the trust, expertise and personal touch that Madonna offered.
“I felt it was worth the drive every weekend back and forth to be comfortable with the facility, be comfortable with the staff and the therapists and get the maximum out of his rehab,” Renae said. “And I think it's paid off. He's come so far in such a short amount of time he really has. Having the comfort of the home away from home was very important to me. It's family away from your family. They become family. They care. We're just grateful for everybody that's here and everybody that cares so much. And the personal touch that Madonna brings to the care that they give.”
A testament to the power of caregiving
Renae's story is a testament to the power of caregiving. Her unwavering dedication, and the support of Steve’s care team throughout his stay at Madonna, pushed Steve toward regaining his independence. Their journey demonstrates the impact a caregiver can have on the recovery process. “Renee was a fantastic support system for him,” Karen Eilers, PT, DPT, CBIS, a Madonna physical therapist, said. “She kept him positive and working hard. And she was such an encouragement. And every session, he would break down laughing, and he was just a joy to work with. And she was a huge part of that, just being right by his side the whole time.” As we celebrate National Family Caregivers Month, let us extend our heartfelt gratitude to caregivers like Renae, who demonstrate love, strength and resilience every day.