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Madonna Rehabilitation Hospitals

Mother of brain injury survivor finds the silver lining in a pandemic

June 24, 2021

Diana Schneider looks back on 17 months filled with uncertainty and counts her blessings. For the single mother of three, the pandemic has given her the freedom to work remotely and at times, nights and weekends. The flexibility gives her additional time to spend at home caring and advocating for her son, Nick Murphy, recovering from brain trauma.

In December 2019, Nick, then 15, was riding in the backseat with younger sister, Carlee, when the car crashed nearly head-on with another vehicle. All four passengers needed hospitalization, but Nick’s brain injuries proved the most severe. He required emergency craniotomy surgery at Nebraska Medicine.

When he first arrived at Madonna Rehabilitation Hospitals—Omaha Campus in March 2020, Nick was barely able to keep his eyes open, and unable to follow simple commands or communicate. Early on, progress was slow. However, Mother’s Day marked a turning point in Nick’s recovery.

“He started raising his arm on command. He was waving,” Diana said. “It was a Mother’s Day I won’t soon forget.”

From there, Nick’s progress steadily improved, and he began tolerating more intense therapy. Occupational therapy encouraged his independence during his morning routine. In physical therapy he was introduced to specialized technology called the Lokomat, which played to his competitive nature and helped get him up and walking.

On June 10, Nick turned 16. And while he wasn’t able to celebrate the milestone by getting behind the wheel of a car, Diana organized a surprise drive-by parade. Family, friends and a local car club showed up to rev their engines. Another motivator? Nick’s favorite snack: Taco John’s Potato Olés with a side of nacho cheese.

Nick transitioned to the next step of Madonna’s continuum of care, the Rehabilitation Day program, in July. In the intense outpatient program, he progressed to using a walker at home. In late October he started traditional outpatient therapy with Madonna TherapyPlus, adding aquatic therapy which continued to fuel his recovery. The water’s warmth combined with its buoyancy helped further strengthen and tone Nick’s leg muscles and provide for better balance once out of the water.

Fast forward one year, and Diana said she can’t believe she’s talking about the same child. Once using a communication board and a keypad to voice his wants and needs, Nick now laughs and jokes with his care team.

“I was prepared to buy a new, adaptable car, and make our house more accessible, because I expected to take him home in a wheelchair,” Diana said. “But, he just made so much progress so quickly, he doesn’t need any help from me.”

Nick still participates in outpatient rehabilitation twice a week, where he continues to work on walking independently and improving the use of his right hand.

“Several staff call him the Homecoming King of Madonna,” Dianna said. “He’s always waving, saying hi to everyone and I think he feels like a celebrity.”

Nick quickly pipes in, “I’m not the Homecoming King. I want to be Prom King. That’s more important.”

Madonna’s Therapeutic Learning Center has helped Nick keep up with his junior year of high school, as he is back in the classroom full-time. His favorite class is Speech, something his mom said she’s not at all surprised to hear.

“Nick’s back-the mouth, the attitude, the sense of humor, all of it,” Diana said with a laugh.

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