Madonna Rehabilitation Hospitals

Faith, expert care played equal roles in Lincoln priest’s recovery at Madonna

May 18, 2023

Written on a sign at the entrance of the James E. Ryan Memorial Chapel is a verse from the Gospel of Luke, which says, “A Samaritan… went up and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine.”

For the Rev. Robert Matya, he’s usually on the giving end of that good deed. However, at Madonna Rehabilitation Hospitals, he found himself being the one in need of care.

Just after Easter, Matya came down with what he thought was a flu bug, but turned out to be a “nasty infection,” and he was later admitted to CHI Health St. Elizabeth.

“That infection caused me to lose my big toe, my left eye and have surgery on my hands,” Matya said. “And I was in septic shock.”

After receiving life-saving care and spending several weeks in a hospital bed, Matya was weak and couldn’t walk. It became clear that he needed medical rehabilitation.

Matya came to Madonna Rehabilitation Hospitals’ specialized amputation and complex medical programs. With daily physician visits and intense physical and occupational therapies, he soon grew stronger and more independent.

“Father Matya was deconditioned following his acute care hospitalization, and we focused on his activity tolerance and endurance with high-intensity gait training during his therapy sessions,” Kathy Sievers, PT, NCS, said. “He also worked to learn how to manage his wound vac uum system [dressings] that he would need to return home, strengthen his legs, and improve his standing balance.”

As he navigated his first few steps, he began to gain confidence. Matya soon mastered the stairs and walked using only a walker to attend daily Mass at Madonna’s onsite chapel.

Having served as a priest for the Diocese of Lincoln for almost 28 years, faith played a key part in Matya’s recovery. Not only was he able to attend Mass, but he also co-celebrated Mass with the Rev. Joseph Steele. He also appreciated Madonna’s Catholic identity.

“I think there's a lot of consolation in that for me,” Matya said. “At the same time, the Catholic identity of Madonna is such that it’s here to take care of anybody. Which is part of what we do as Catholics, we were meant to take care of anybody who needs to be cared for. And I feel like that's part of the mission of Madonna Hospitals.”

Madonna has always offered spiritual care to patients recovering from an injury or illness of all faiths. This focus on spirituality is a part of Madonna’s holistic, person-centered approach to health care, and many of Madonna’s patients and their families have experienced the benefits.

“We make it our goal to meet and serve every patient who comes under Madonna’s roof,” Patrick Miron, Madonna’s pastoral care manager, said. “Of course, these individual needs vary greatly based on the individual’s preferences. We provide daily Catholic Mass, weekly Protestant worship service, intercessory prayer, pastoral visitation and counseling for patients, their families, and staff. We also provide any sacramental needs and make referrals to external, faith-based leaders when this is needed or desired.”

For many patients, including Matya, spirituality is important and can influence key outcomes in illness, such as quality of life and medical care decisions.

Matya was ordained a priest in 1995 and has served as the Director of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s Newman Center for almost 25 years. However, Matya said that his experience at Madonna has provided him with a supportive sense of transition as he prepares to leave the Newman Center and move to his new assignment at the St. Mary Parish in Ashland and the St. Joseph Parish in Greenwood. This time has allowed him to focus on the change, pray and slow down. An unexpected blessing, he said.

“It has given me the opportunity to, in a healthy way, detach myself from being there and be ready to move to a new apostolate, to a new mission,” Matya said. “After this experience and being in an environment where I feel like I could do that, I don’t think it’s going to be nearly as difficult for me to transition into a new place.”

Now home, he’s ready to gradually return to his full duties. He will continue physical and occupational therapy at Madonna’s Rehabilitation Day Program and his new clergy appointment will begin June 19th.

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