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Madonna Rehabilitation Hospitals

Determination and humor spark welder’s recovery

August 31, 2017

Seven months after his traumatic brain injury, Jacob Rickel refines a weld on a job site in Missouri. Throughout his recovery, Jacob's primary goal was returning to his rewarding occupation as a pipefitter.


As Jacob Rickel lay comatose in the intensive care unit, the code word to enter his room was “Smiley.” His mother, Sherrie Rickel, created the secret password as countless visitors, including his union brothers from Pipefitters Local 533, filled her son’s hospital room. The nickname fits the fun-loving personality of 22-year-old Jacob. But last winter, life abruptly took a serious turn for the young tradesman.

On Dec. 17, 2016, Jacob was returning from a Christmas party with his girlfriend, Kristina, when he lost control of his pickup on an icy road near his hometown of Liberty, Missouri. During the violent rollover crash, Jacob was ejected from the vehicle. His body suffered multiple fractures and worst of all, a traumatic brain injury. “

Cautiously optimistic” are the words doctors repeated to Sherrie. Playing the waiting game with Jacob’s future      “was the hardest experience of my life,” said his mom. Jacob’s extensive supporters believed if anyone could beat the odds, it was Smiley. Within two weeks, Jacob opened his blue eyes and proved them right.

On Jan. 5, one day after arriving at Madonna Rehabilitation Specialty Hospital-Lincoln Campus, Jacob walked 50 feet flanked by his therapists. Days later, with his tracheostomy removed and more alert, Jacob’s recovery skyrocketed.

Playing a computerized soccer game on the Armeo®Spring, an upper extremity exoskeleton, restored Jacob’s mental and physical toughness. He logged miles around the hallway pushing a walker, sharing positivity and wit along the route. “You gotta risk it to get the biscuit,” became Jacob’s signature phrase while aggressively conquering his goals.

“Jacob approached therapy with an intensity and vigor for life making everyone strive to keep up,” said Amanda Cool, occupational therapist.

Jacob quickly moved to acute rehabilitation, where his self-motivation continued to impress his team. Walking independently across a room to surprise Kristina with flowers was a significant milestone for Jacob. “I wouldn’t be where I am today without my nurses and therapists,” said Jacob.

Seven months post-accident, Jacob is grateful to be driving, working his dream job and embracing life fully—all with that trademark smile.

Related story: Missouri man celebrates every milestone after severe car accident

Jacob Rickel lines up his shot during a group bowling outing to Parkway Lanes with Kristin Luethke, recreational therapist. Bowling challenged Jacob’s balance, cognition and social skills during his brain injury recovery. The young welder developed game strategies and kept score while sharing his humor.

Complex medical

Madonna Rehabilitation Specialty Hospital, with locations in Lincoln and Omaha, focuses on physical rehabilitation while providing comprehensive care to patients with complex medical conditions. From ventilator care to wound management, these specialty programs and services are designed to ensure every need is met with expertise and managed with compassion.

Rehabilitation for medically complex patients includes specialized services that promote regaining the highest level of independence. These services includes pulmonary, wound, burn, amputation, vision, work and community re-entry.

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