To all our very dear friends and family!
This update will likely be a bit longer than usual. I have photos and I have lots to share! All I can say is my trip out to visit Kris last week was... in a word... AWESOME!!!
Getting to Kris from the airport in Austin last Tuesday meant arriving at CORE in the early evening. She was already set to go to bed. Many months ago I told her, if I ever found Kermit (the frog), I would bring him to her. The Kermit she had years ago literally “came apart at the seams,” but he had been her favorite. I found one (not a small one!) and managed to get him in my suitcase! Security at the airport thought he was adorable and Kris was surprised!
Wednesday morning, Kris was already in physical therapy by 8 a.m. When I arrived a little after 8 from the hotel, Kris’s PT person, Alicia, showed me how Kris could stand on her own, turn very slowly and sit in her chair. Then do it again to return to the raised mat. Of course, Alicia was there to catch and help, but Kris’s grin when she stood up was as wonderful as any medal could be. She was proud of what she could do, and I was overjoyed!
Wednesday is also horse back riding day for Kris! Jennifer (shown in the ball cap in the photo), is the owner of the therapeutic riding ranch to which several of the residents at CORE are now permitted to go. She is delightful. When she works with the “clients” (as they are called), she does so with extreme care, tenderness and professionalism. And she has numerous helpers who are all equally as caring. It’s a perfect match for someone like Kris (who loved to ride) and a young fellow from CORE, who is also a veteran, and qualified for the program. The photo doesn’t begin to tell the good that comes from client-horse, hands-on close up responsiveness, but it helps to see it in the photo at least. Kris’s horse is named Maggie, a gentle mare who is very well trained. Jennifer worked to gain a grant from the VA to be able to bring veterans there, and that is just an amazing feat. Kudos to Jennifer and all the helpers, and to CORE for sending the veterans there, and to the VA for offering such a neat therapeutic program.
Both Thursday and Friday were filled with almost back to back therapies of all kinds, numerous group sessions, including something called vision group (where Kris worked with a therapeutic computer program). She wore a head piece on which is placed a special “eye” that reacts to various obstacles and/or moving targets. As her eyes are directed to the target in order to accomplish what she must, the “eye piece” shoots the snowball, makes the basket, etc. It enables Kris to learn to hold her head straight, focus, follow commands, and gives the therapist an idea of her vision capabilities. Technology!!!! And Kris loves this kind of competitiveness!!! It is very tiring both physically and mentally for her because it causes her to use extreme concentration while holding her head up perfectly still, but it is a tremendous learning tool.
Kris also had sessions on her motorized wheelchair. It’s a loner chair now but, as she learns to use it, she is determined to have her own soon. I actually managed to get a very short video with my cell phone of her practicing how to maneuver and keep it straight and steady, but (being the blonde that I am) I also managed to turn the “camera” sideways when I wanted to get a closer shot. George is working to “right” the sideways shot, and I hope to be able to include that little video one day!! May I say that Kris did a super job of maneuvering the power chair and I am positive she’ll be using it more frequently now. She still has to remember not to go too fast, get too close to door frames and walls and toes, and stay focused on where she is going. It will come!
By Friday evening, I was given permission to take Kris shopping at a mall in Austin (about 20 miles away from where CORE is located). The direct care staff (DCS) person assigned to Kris must always accompany her wherever she goes (even to daily therapy sessions), and a delightful young lady named Kelly went along. Kris and I shared just a bit of a Smoothie (in lieu of yogurt), and we sailed through both Penny’s and Sears looking for new nightgowns. Kris picked out her own... six of them... and we had a great time.
Saturday was chilly but nice, and the special event (they are always planning some great adventure!) for that day was a trip out in the hill country to visit the famed LBJ Ranch. Kris was allowed to ride in my rental car again with me, so that made it even more fun for us. Her DCS person that day was a ball of fire named Melissa, and what a help she was to do all that we had to do to make it work for Kris.
Once at the visitors center, folks are given a CD to use for a drive-through tour of the entire ranch. There is lots to see, including the family cemetery where both Lyndon and Lady Bird Johnson are buried. At the huge ranch house, there is another center where folks can view memorabilia, watch a video, and sign up for the house tour. We didn’t quite make the final tour at the ranch house because Kris was surprised by two friends from her military days in Iraq and at Wilford Hall Medical Center where she once worked as a pediatric intensive care nurse. Col Joanne Kirschbaum, a friend and former commander, and Maj Richard Reusch, who serves as director of nurses at the Audie Murphy Poly Trauma Center in San Antonio. What a surprise and what a joy to see Kris’s reaction when they walked into the tour center. We had a delightful visit with them and their interaction and “catching up” with Kris truly made her day, and mine! Thanks to both of these fine military professionals for coming to see Kris. It was great medicine!!!
Sunday was bowling day and, again, I was blown away!!! CORE’s dynamic activities person, Judy, is always planning the great outings I’ve been telling folks about for many weeks. She loaded up the huge wheelchair van and, along with several other vans and Kris with me, off we went to the bowling alley in Austin. They have a bowling “rack” for folks in wheelchairs and Kris’s intense “lining up” of the ball before shooting just tickled me so. An avid athlete and competitive sports person, Kris still takes great care when “aiming” at the pins. All of the bowlers did exceptionally well given the circumstances, and Judy is to be commended for making this happen.
By Sunday evening, however, we noticed Kris was tired but she was also very warm. A staff person checked her temperature, which was elevated, and it was decided to give her some liquid acetaminophen. That seemed to help and the temp went down. By Monday, however, it was obvious she wasn’t feeling well. A few therapy sessions proved extremely tiring and wore her down. By late that afternoon, CORE decided to err on the side of caution, and we took her to the ER at a hospital in Austin. After numerous blood tests, a full litre of fluids and a whopper of an antibiotic, Kris returned to CORE tired but already smiling. I tucked her in about 11:30 that night and she slept until 10 a.m. Tuesday. She had a urinary tract infection (UTI), not uncommon, and easily treatable.
By noon Tuesday, she shook her head “yes” to go to the dining room with me and try something we had been given permission by the speech therapist, Michelle, to work on over the weekend: giving yogurt to Kris! Saturday night, Kris ate 20 half teaspoons of yogurt. Sunday night, even though she wasn’t feeling up to snuff, she still wanted yogurt. One whole container!!! That’s right. She was absolutely determined and polished off one whole container of yogurt, swallowing delightfully well, and even initiating “follow-up” swallows. I was tasked with making sure her voice was clear and audible by making a little groaning sounds after several spoons full. This meant she was swallowing well and clearing her own throat. Her own little system is what works best. After placing the spoon of yogurt back on her tongue, she leans her head back, looks up at the ceiling, pauses just a second or so, and that initiates the swallow. Follow-up swallows are important, and that comes right along, too. She will be working on soft pureed scrambled eggs with cheese in no time and that sounded doggone good to Kris!!! She smiled!!! Kris is ready to learn to eat and Michelle agreed she will work toward staff learning Kris’s “style” for eating.
By 1 p.m., it was necessary for me to head to the airport in Austin. Leaving Kris, as I’ve said many times, tears the heart out of me. It has always been made extremely difficult because of the care she had received in so many places. Therapies were good; care was not. This time, leaving her was hard on my heart, but much easier on my mind. Her personal care at CORE is intensely planned, carried out, followed through and provided lovingly and professionally 16 hours a day. All the direct care staff are trained to be extremely mindful of potential pitfalls and limitations of stroke and traumatic brain injured clients. This is CORE’s specialty at this particular “house” and there are just 14 beds in it. It is a one-year program but their rehab rate is very high without even knowing the percentage. There is no doubt, CORE’s very name (Center Of Rehabilitation Excellence) is very appropriate, and we are extremely grateful for all of their efforts.
Whew! As I said, this update would be a little lengthy but it’s awesome! I was so proud of Kris in all her efforts and determination. It’s all back. She is trying so very hard, and she will talk soon, and she will enjoy eating soon. Just to watch her eating the yogurt again and, this time, with so much more gusto!!! She is ready!!!
Thank you all for your wonderful prayers (God hears them every one), for your requests to have the updates continue, for the cards and letters you send to Kris. I wish I could thank each of you personally, but she does keep every card and, one day, she will look back over them all and be so grateful, too. I know Kris... she has the most caring heart, and she deserves this chance to have the finest rehab yet!
God greatly bless you all!!!
Carol and George
[Thanks, Carol, for this glorious update! We are all rejoicing with you and continue to pray and praise God for her improvement.]