Overcoming the Unexpected

Jim Miller underwent what he had anticipated to be routine heart surgery at a Des Moines hospital on Sept. 16, 2009. The doctors had told him there was a two percent chance he would experience complications.

"Well, I was within the two percent, I guess," says Miller.

If the surgery had gone as planned, he would have been headed home in about five days. But during the surgery, he suffered a stroke and a seizure. After nine days as an inpatient in Des Moines, he was transported by ambulance to Mary Greeley Medical Center for rehabilitation.

Jim MillerAlthough he was in a stressful situation, Miller's positive attitude began to shine through. "I'd never ridden in an ambulance before," he says with a grin. "That was an interesting experience."

The Road to Recovery

Once admitted to the Acute Rehabilitation Center at Mary Greeley Medical Center, Miller participated in three therapy sessions each day, which included physical, occupational and speech therapy. At the 10- bed Acute Rehabilitation Center, physicians, rehabilitation nurses, physical and occupational therapists, therapeutic recreations staff, speech/language pathologists, psychologists, social workers and dietitians work together to provide a wide range of services. In addition to rehabilitating stroke patients, the team also serves patients who have experienced brain injury, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson's disease, hip fracture and several other conditions.

According to Lana Jenness, L.M.S.W., Acute Rehabilitation Center social worker, the stroke initially left Miller with cognitive impairment-trouble with language, memory and other mental functions-as well as emotional lability-excessive emotional reactions and frequent mood changes. Miller also had to learn how to walk again.

Though recovery often seems like a long road for patients, the Acute Rehabilitation team works with patients to regain their highest level of function. "We want to know what their goals are, and usually their goal is to go home," says Jenness. "Their goal is our goal."

Making Life Possible

Miller's goal was not only to get home, but to be at the award ceremony when his son Alex attained the rank of Eagle Scout. He made it to the ceremony. Alex was also playing football for Ames High School that fall. His dad made it to senior night.

Mona Follmann, therapeutic recreation therapist, made it possible for Miller to achieve another goal he hadn't even articulated. One day the youth minister from his church was visiting Miller at the same time Follmann was working with him. Before his stroke, Miller had played guitar for 35 years, and the minister mentioned this to Follmann. About an hour later, Follmann returned to Miller's room-with a guitar.

"First time I went to play the guitar, I just couldn't believe it, that I was actually able to play," says Miller.

Miller makes sure to give credit to all of the Mary Greeley Medical Center staff he encountered. "I got to know the staff at the Acute Rehabilitation Center, and I can't say enough good things about them," Miller says. But they're not the only ones he compliments. "I was in Acute Rehabilitation and Outpatient Rehabilitation and Cardiac Rehabilitation, and all three of those areas I can't say enough good things about."

In return, Miller also made an impression on the staff. "He was so appreciative from the day he walked in here," says Jodi Whitt, R.N., Skilled Nursing Unit/Acute Rehabilitation clinical supervisor.

Back in the Community

"Since we live in Ames, we wanted to get back here," Miller says of his transfer to Mary Greeley Medical Center. He moved to Ames in 1988, and is active in the community, working as a courier for a credit union, attending First United Methodist Church, serving as Scoutmaster for the troop of one of his sons, and volunteering for United Way.

Miller felt like part of the community again after arriving at Mary Greeley Medical Center. He had many visitors during his stay, including church members and old classmates. He saw nurses he knew from scouts and visited with them in the hallways.

A member of the Dietetic Services team, who Miller knew from the Ames community, not only delivered his meals, but one day brought him a gift- a serenity angel.

"I kept that on my tray the whole time-in fact I still have it on my dresser at home," says Miller. "But, boy, talk about going above and beyond to make a patient feel welcome."

A Personal Touch

Miller was discharged on Oct. 6. When he left the Acute Rehabilitation Center, he was once again independent. He returned to Mary Greeley Medical Center for outpatient therapy and cardiac rehabilitation. He has also assisted with Stroke Support Group sessions.

Miller says he feels cared for by the staff at Mary Greeley Medical Center even after being discharged. He's returned to the Acute Rehabilitation Center a couple of times to visit. "They're always glad to see me," he says. "They're usually busy, but they do have a minute to stop by and say hi to me and everything, which means a lot to me, because I genuinely do feel like I've made some good friends at Mary Greeley Medical Center. I wasn't just a number or anything like that."

And to the staff at Mary Greeley Medical Center, Miller was certainly more than a number. "Once you meet Jim Miller, you don't forget him," says Jenness.