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Stories That Move You.
Jon Holwerda, brain injury patient

A brush with death means Jon looks at life differently. He's grateful to have recovered so fully.

Jon is not the same person he was before the accident. According to his wife, he’s much milder and nicer. He appreciates his friends and family differently, and makes sure to say “I love you”.

Many people who are told they weren’t expected to live tend to have at this new kind of perspective on life. Jon’s no exception.

Jon’s Story

After his small landscape company felt the effects of the economic downturn, Jon went into teaching. He applied his expertise in landscaping to his paraprofessional role at Kent Career Technical Center by teaching agriscience to students.

As a spring project, Jon’s students helped construct a retaining wall on the school’s campus. As the school year wrapped up, student attendance dwindled. But, the wall was almost complete so Jon decided to go to the site alone to get some work done.

While positioning a boulder in place, all of the boulders suddenly started rolling toward him. Jon tried to stop one of them – then crunch. His fingers were smashed underneath a boulder. Once he was able to pull his hand out, he immediately noticed that two of his fingers were severely injured.

Even though he was losing a lot of blood, Jon was able to drive a Bobcat to the nursing center at the school. But when he arrived, the worst of his injuries was about to happen. Jon fainted. He fell backwards off the Bobcat and went head first on to the cement. This is the last thing he remembers.

He was immediately sent to a hospital and had surgery on his fingers. One of his fingertips on his left hand was amputated and the other fingertip was repaired.

In A Strange Fog

When Jon fell off the Bobcat, that’s likely when the real trouble started. The brain injury he suffered from falling caused Jon to lose some of his memory. He suffered amnesia for about four weeks.

While in the emergency room unusual words began coming out of his mouth. This kind of odd behavior is common in brain injuries.

When his wife and kids came to the hospital he said, “Do you got your keys? Get me out of here.” His sons even had to hold him down to keep him from running out the door.

Often, when other visitors stopped by in the following weeks, he asked if they brought their cars keys and to help him escape. One escape idea even included a plane and a trip to Canada.

Question of Survival

After four days in an acute care hospital, Jon was transferred to Mary Free Bed Rehabilitation Hospital’s inpatient Brain Injury Program.

However, Jon’s initial stay at Mary Free Bed didn’t last very long. His roommate, who happened to be a doctor, noticed that Jon was convulsing and alerted the staff. He told them it was a blood problem.

Jon contracted sepsis, a blood poisoning, which is the body’s deadly response to infection or injury. Forty to sixty percent of people do not live after being exposed to sepsis. Many of Jon’s doctors questioned if he would survive.

Jon doesn’t remember anything about his body’s struggle to overcome the infection and stay alive.

Continuing Recovery

When Jon came out of his amnesia, he didn’t know where he was. His sister, who was visiting at the time, updated him on everything that had happened in the last few weeks.

When she left, Jon met some of the nurses on the floor and was shocked at how much medication he had to take. Jon tried to get a grip of how long he was going to be at Mary Free Bed and what was going to happen next.

As Jon continued his therapy he came to realization that he wasn’t one-hundred percent recovered. In the beginning of Jon’s memory testing, his scores weren’t high enough to return home. He became discouraged.

But Jon believes making personal connections with the therapists and his sense of humor helped him to stay positive. He appreciated knowing what to expect and where he was in the rehabilitation process.

“It was really amazing to me that every single person I came into contact with here [Mary Free Bed] was so friendly, kind, helpful, willing to chat, and joke around,” says Jon. “No matter who the person was at the hospital, everyone asked how they could help.”

After being released from inpatient care at Mary Free Bed, Jon completed three weeks of outpatient therapy. He received a prosthesis fingertip, but only wears it while typing.

Getting Back to a Normal Life

Jon was eager to teach again, but had a couple more obstacles to overcome. He had to go through driver rehabilitation to get back on the road, and he had to prove he could teach again.

He passed his driving test without any problems and taught a Bonsai tree lesson to his therapists to show he can teach. Soon after, his doctor approved him to go back to work – just in time before the new school year started.

Today Jon makes instant connections with others who have had a finger amputation and enjoys listening to their stories. And he still gets “wow” moments when he hears stories of when he was planning great escapes from the hospital to when his mind couldn’t identify a house or boat.

To Jon these are all reminders that life has changed. When he thinks about his brain injury, he’s grateful to have recovered so fully. And after avoiding death from his sepsis infection, Jon can’t help but to look at life differently.

“As I consider the level of recovery I am at now it is true to say that many near to me wondered if this were possible. I had my own doubts as to the journey I was on and where it was going. I prayed every day that my heavenly Father would show me the way to go and that all things would go according to His plan.”

And this summer Jon is not planning to be in the hospital – he hopes to spend time outside enjoying life.

Charlotte Milligan, Mary Free Bed Writer

Charlotte Milligan writes for the Hope Restored blog and assists in managing Mary Free Bed’s website and social media.

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