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Close By: Why Family Matters at QLI

With the grand opening of Suzanne Scott Family Housing at QLI just around the corner, we wanted to share an inside perspective regarding the importance of family on the rehabilitation process, and the impact our family housing accommodations will have on our families themselves.

To do that, we sat down with Janet Eppenbach, whose mother — Tammy Andersen of Omaha, Nebraska — recently graduated from QLI’s inpatient stroke rehabilitation program.

Despite living over three hours away in Ord, Nebraska, Janet and her son Easton spent nearly every day in Omaha with her mother.

Can you explain Tammy’s injury to us?

On December 17th, Tammy woke with a bad headache. Ron Andersen, her husband, drove her to the doctor’s office. Tammy and her doctor felt this could be more than a migraine. They sent her to Lakeside hospital for a CT scan. There they discovered she had a large brain aneurysm. She was taken to Nebraska Medicine, where she had her first of three brain surgeries. After the first surgery she was doing really well. She was up walking the halls, everything was good.  Two weeks later, she had to have a second surgery to add coils and possibly put a stent in, during that surgery is when she had a stroke.

What were some of the effects of that stroke?

After the second surgery, while in recovery the nurses were unable to wake her up.  Tammy was placed on a ventilator for two weeks, due to a bleed in her brain. When the doctors took her off the ventilator, she whispered a few words.  But the next few weeks were a waiting game to see what she would regain. Tammy knew who we all were but was unable to speak, couldn’t recognize objects when asked. She was unable to swallow more than a little water on a sponge, unable to hold her own head up, and had no movement on the left side. Through therapy and time she was able to return to a normal diet, speaks well, and is slowly regaining strength to her left side.

So, primarily, what did her rehabilitation at QLI look like? Is it mostly speech-related? Physical?

It was primarily physical. Her days consisted of an hour-long physical therapy session 5 days a week, and then additional half-hour PT sessions through the week, using devices like stand tables, Bioness assistive devices, or a NuStep and an FES (Functional Electrical Stimulation) bike.

Along with Physical Therapy she filled her days with other therapies that are just as important to her recovery journey. In Speech Therapy, Occupational Therapy, Vision exercises, and Life Path Services, she worked on her memory, organization skills, vision, and ability to stay focused on a task. Although one of Tammy’s main goals was to walk again, each of these sessions helped her get closer to moving back home.

 What was your involvement been with her recovery? Were you involved with her program at all, were you just kind of there shadowing her?

In the beginning it felt we were here mainly as a support system, letting her know she wasn’t alone. Through this long journey she has developed major anxiety—with us being close it allowed her to stay calm and feel comfortable, allowing her to focus on her rehab.

But our family started helping with car transfers. Eventually, we were able to get in the car and just go. This gave Tammy a real taste of freedom, something she took pleasure in. While at QLI we had two weddings, and graduations – QLI was amazing at taking her to these events. But it was really nice to say, “Let’s go. Let’s just get in the car.”

To some people that might seem little but that is such a huge piece of freedom.

How much coaching do you feel like you get from our staff?

QLI was very good with that. My sister and I met with QLI staff every week. They were very good about assisting us through good and difficult situations we have encountered during Tammy’s stay at QLI.  The staff  helped our family talk through difficult times, put together family meetings, and were willing to help in all aspects.

In being here every day, how well do you feel like you’ve built relationships with the QLI staff?

They are all so kind and made us feel at home. Everyone knew my son Easton, who rides with me around campus. Even QLI’s HR department, who I never needed to directly work with, stopped and makes time to talk to Easton and myself, always very sweet. During Tammy’s third surgery many of the House 3 staff stopped at the hospital to check on Tammy, and the staff who couldn’t make it showed their love on social media. We definitely have a new family here at QLI.

Do you feel like that influenced your involvement in the therapy program in any way?

Most definitely. I felt like I can ask questions about what is happening and even suggest things I know work for my mom. The consistency of her staff, even though we were here most days, was important. To have the same people working with her day in and day out, from her therapists to the residential staff, gave her peace of mind and a sense of consistency, two very important things to her at this time. When I did go back to Ord, I didn’t feel like I was leaving her. When my dad and sister were unable to be there during the day, we knew she had a good support system and we knew everyone well enough to trust they would take care of her.

What do you think Tammy gets from having you right there, being there for her?

When we arrived at QLI we were open with the therapists and the staff in House 3, explained our situation – where we had been and what we had been through during Tammy’s journey. We explained a family member would be with her most of the time, but wanted to make sure we didn’t distract or impede in any way. With the opening of [Suzanne Scott Family Housing at QLI] family members can be with their loved one in the mornings, through therapy, at the end of the evening, and/or anytime between that fits their needs.

As much as being here helped Tammy, being here was just as important to me. It’s hard to put into words, but when you almost lose a loved one, and feel like you’re getting more time, it’s hard to leave. Though the resident is doing all of the heavy lifting, so to speak, it’s the hardest and scariest time in our life.

One of the really cool elements of the family housing complex is the opportunity for multiple families to be together through their hardship. Have you experienced that here in your time with QLI?

Yes. There were days where you’re so hopeful, and the progress you see is exciting. Then there are other days where you’re upset about small or large setbacks. Being able to talk to someone who is going through the same emotional rollercoaster is reassuring.

We became so close to many families here at QLI, especially the families in House 3, a few of them even took time to attend Easton’s 1st birthday.  There’s a family in House 2, their loved one was at Nebraska Medicine the same time as my mom, and they came here a few weeks after we did.  It was so amazing to see their familiar faces around campus and to be able to be surrounded by people whose situations we can empathize with. When this resident walked for the first time, I was so truly happy. I got chills. Our two families have been on a similar journey and the support they gave to my mom and my family has been so uplifting. Irreplaceable.

It’s been very helpful to have that support and the mental break. As much as your friends and family support you, and they are amazing, many of them still don’t understand what you’re going through on a daily or even hourly basis. It’s amazing to have people around you who understand the ins and outs of your daily highs and lows.

What do you think will be the impact of something like that for families coming so far away from home to be here with their loved ones?

Just having the support system so close is huge, like I said before, not only for the resident but also for the family. Therapies are very important, but the power of love and support should not be underestimated. QLI is making that easier with the new Suzanne Scott Family Housing next to campus. I can’t describe the value of being right here.

You can learn more about Suzanne Scott Family Housing at QLI here. And be sure to follow QLI on Facebook and Twitter to get immediate updates about the facility’s grand opening.

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