Lynne Milimu is rarely seen without a smile on her face. Her care team at Madonna Rehabilitation Hospitals describes her as a ball of sunshine and a positive light. She spends hours in the cafeteria of the specialized brain injury unit chatting with other patients and cheering them on in therapy. But this is a transformation that didn’t happen overnight.. Lynne and her care team worked together to heal her mind and body after she sustained a brain injury as the result of a traumatic event on Mother’s Day.
“I lost faith in humanity that day, but I gained faith in a higher power, I guess you could say, because I could have died,” Lynne said. “My husband could have died; my son could have died, but we're all still here.”
When she arrived at Madonna, Lynne knew she had a long road to recovery.
“I was barely able to sit and barely able to stand,” she said. “I did not have any movement on my right side at all. I was just feeling very low, very depressed, and very angry about what had happened, not knowing what was going to happen and not knowing how I was going to get through it.”
But the mother of three didn’t have to look far for her motivation.
“She's got kids at home, and she wanted to return to being a mom,” Nicole Ford , PT, DPT, CBIS, a Madonna physical therapist, said. “I think that was her main drive the entire time she was here. She wanted to return to taking care of them and not being the one taken care of.”
Using specialized technology like the Lokomat robotic gait trainer to strengthen her legs and Dynavision to improve hand-eye coordination, Lynne saw her small victories add up over time. She even competed against her high score using the ArmeoPower to enhance her range of motion in her arm.
“The technology is really incredible,” Betsy Havekost , OTD, OTR/L, CBIS, a Madonna occupational therapist, said. “It's fun to be able to use something that's so specialized with a lot of our patients, like Lynne. Having that feedback right away is really important for our patients to be able to see what they need to do differently or do better in order to improve.”
As she saw her progress, Lynne’s mood continued to lift. Her joy was evident during vision therapy while using virtual reality to simulate navigating a grocery store. Working on activities she’d be doing in her daily life, like cooking and playing with her kids, gave Lynne confidence she could return to being a hands-on mom.
“The benefit of occupational therapy is that we use the task you're trying to get back to as the means,” Havekost said. “If you're trying to get back to cooking, we actually get you in the kitchen. You have to be working on your balance. You have to be working on opening containers with one hand. Can you crack an egg with one hand? Can you get around the kitchen? At Madonna, we just have an excellent facility for doing those occupation-based tasks because we have things like a kitchen and laundry room available to practice with.”
During two months of intense daily therapy, Lynne progressed from a wheelchair to a walker to taking steps on her own. She credits Ford for always knowing how to push her to be her best.
“She does not go easy at all, but I love that about her,” Lynne said. “She looked at me and said, ‘I know you can do this and you're going to do it. If this is your goal to walk out of here, I'm going to help you achieve that goal.’ And she did.”
To help support her through the expected highs and lows of a brain injury recovery, Lynne relied on Madonna’s holistic approach to care. While physical and occupational therapy helped heal her physically, neuropsychology and pastoral care services helped heal her spirit.
“The chaplain, he's amazing,” Lynne said. “He made me feel heard and seen and he would always pray for me and his prayers would be spot on for everything that we just talked about, which helped me feel heard by him.”
Hoping to spread the support she received from Madonna staff, Lynne found ways to encourage other patients.
“My speech therapist said she wanted me to start going out to the lounge, to just be around other people,” she said. “And then I started meeting some of the other patients here, and we kind of got a little coffee club together where we would talk about what we were going through and we would motivate each other.”
In sharing her own story, Lynne encouraged other patients to share their experiences and offered support during difficult days.
“She can connect with patients on so many different levels of, ‘I know this is hard, but if I can do this, you can do this’,” Ford said. “She said that many times to a lot of our patients or, ‘Okay, I just did mine. Now it's your turn..’”
Back home in Kansas City, Missouri, Lynne isn’t slowing down her support and encouragement. She’s signed up to be Madonna’s newest peer volunteer, meeting with and inspiring future patients.
“It's important to me because with what I've been through, it could have destroyed me, but I chose to not let it,” she said. “I feel like I need to take that energy and put it into helping others because I think that none of us wanted to be here. But things happened in our life that put us here and we just have to know that it's not permanent and we can get better.”