September 18, 2009
Faith, family and intensive therapy help Indianola woman overcome brain injury
By Chris Blount
Health and Research News
For their 20th wedding anniversary, Emily and David McDaniel of Indianola celebrated with a wonderful steak dinner. Never mind that the dinner was served on paper plates and on the fifth floor at Methodist Rehabilitation Center. It was the best anniversary celebration ever.
David describes Emily as an incredible wife and mother, a strong woman with a deep and abiding Christian faith; funny, outgoing, adventurous, a woman who knows who she is and knows what’s important. Emily loves cooking, gardening and the outdoors.
On April 23, Emily fell from a ladder in her garage and suffered a traumatic brain injury. David was told she might be brain dead. Emily was quickly transferred from Delta Regional Medical Center to the University of Mississippi Medical Center in Jackson. At UMC a craniotomy was performed to allow her swelling brain room to expand. A week later, the McDaniels moved to Select Specialty Care for a three-week stay. During this time, she began to show signs of brain function.
David, a dentist, used those weeks to research rehabilitation hospitals. He was determined to find a place to give Emily the best chance for recovery.
“As a dentist I know a lot of doctors, and I also have a friend in Dallas who recovered from a traumatic brain injury. I researched other centers, but decided Methodist Rehab is the place we needed to be.
“One thing that impressed me was that the program at MRC is neuro-specific, and that MRC specializes in traumatic brain injuries. I could see that there is a manageable case load, and I was really happy to get Emily a private room with two beds so that we could go through rehab with her.”
The McDaniels spent a total of seven weeks at Methodist, and Emily returned home on July 3.
“When we came to MRC, Emily was ranked as a ‘three’ on the Rancho Scale for brain injury,” David said.
The Rancho Los Amigos Scale is a standard measure for brain injury. A patient identified as a ‘three’ has some localized awareness and response to environment. She may begin to recognize family and friends and respond to simple directions such as “look at me” or “squeeze my hand,” yet responses to simple yes/no questions are inconsistent.
“When we got to MRC, Emily was not speaking at all, no communication, and her right arm was completely immobile. She could not sit up,” David said.
Hitting the ground running
“We got here on a Tuesday and the next day they took her tubes out, put her real clothes on, and started therapy for four hard hours. Just three days later, Friday, they had her standing in a frame, and she spoke for the first time.
“She couldn’t sleep that first week, got her days and nights mixed up and tried to sleep during therapy. Her therapists, Amanda Runnels and Holly Radicioni, especially, pushed her, yelled at her when she fell asleep, whatever it took. They worked with her after hours. I could see that everyone cared and took a sincere interest, Dr. Zoraya Parilla, nurse practitioner Kristi Goodson, the nurses and therapists. They said: ‘We’re going to do everything in our means to bring her back.’ ”
Over the seven weeks, Emily went through the classic phases of traumatic brain injury recovery, including periods of agitation and confusion. “I didn’t want to do some of those puzzles and quizzes,” Emily said. “I would get frustrated and tell them ‘this is stupid.’ But I realize now all those tasks served a purpose.
“The staff is very attentive,” Emily said. “To get better, I realized I just had to do everything they said and that David said. They set goals each week, and we would work toward those goals. They are really good at what they do.”
A light switch moment occurred on Sunday, June 7. Emily sat up in the chair for the first time and was not agitated. Emily was coming back.
David called daughters Addy Morgan and Caroline, who were away at a month-long summer camp. “The last time they had seen their mother, she was barely able to communicate,” David said. “But Emily took the phone and said, ‘Hey girls,’ which is how she usually greets them. There were tears of joy.
“We had a real peace after that, and we got a weekend pass that next Saturday to take her home. It has been a much faster recovery than anyone anticipated.”
Goals and progress
“Each week Ruthie Adams, our case manager, would meet with us with a sheet of paper and go over each aspect of the therapy, walking, putting on clothes, chair-transfers and so on,” David said. “At the end of those sessions, we would understand where we were. I was really impressed by this, how everybody who worked with us was aware of and focused on her goals.
“Sometimes when you go to a hospital they don’t want the family members to stay overnight because they don’t want you to see that much. Here, they want you to stay and to sleep in that other bed in the room. They are totally accessible and nobody kept anything from me. Even the therapists that didn’t work with Emily showed an interest in her. You are not a number here. They care.”
Faith and outlook
“My wife is a miracle,” David said. “Even when they said she was brain dead, my faith sustained me. I had a peace about it, and I just knew she was going to be OK. So wherever I went and whoever touched my wife, I wanted them to be positive. If any tears were shed, I wanted them to be tears of joy over some victory we achieved in recovery.
“From the cleaning folks to Dr. Parilla, this staff is unbelievably positive. Not one time did I feel or hear any negativity, from anybody, and it shows in the results with patients.
“They make you feel like family here,” daughter Addy Morgan said.
Emily appreciated the faith-based emphasis at MRC. “You can talk about God here; it is a place of faith,” Emily said “These people follow God’s will and work. God could have put us anywhere, but he chose us to come here. I am going to miss the therapists and nurses; they all want you to do well.”
A great support system
“It has been incredible,” David said. “Prayers, meals cooked, mowing our grass, family and friends who came to stay with Emily to allow me to work a few days a week. The dental community has been awesome. Our church, First Baptist in Indianola, has as well. We’re on so many prayer lists, but one local church in particular, Crossgates Baptist in Brandon, really touched us while we were at MRC as they sent members to pray over us. We have witnessed the Body of Christ through this whole experience.”
David recommends the online service, Caringbridge.org as a great way to keep family and friends updated on daily progress and as a therapeutic journaling exercise. The McDaniel family’s page on Caring Bridge is: www.caringbridge.org/visit/prayforemily
David attended UMC for dental school and walked through and around MRC many times.
“Back then, I didn’t even notice this place, didn’t know what it was. Now I’ve seen miracles here, Emily and many patients you figure wouldn’t be able to do anything. In almost two months at MRC, I saw probably 100 patients, and I didn’t see anyone who didn’t get better. I’ve already recommended MRC to several patients and families considering where to go for rehab.”
David said Emily has continued to recover at home in Indianola these past two months.
“Em is a walking, talking miracle. She is such a hard worker at therapy and is getting stronger every day. Her balance is much better and she is able to walk by herself. She is reading and speaking and sounding more like Em every day. Her right hand is at about 70 percent now, yet it does not hurt any more and she can play the piano. Beautifully, I might add.
“I am amazed at what God has done and doing in our lives. He is able to do the impossible. As Emily was writing thank you notes tonight, she was quoting Isaiah 40: 31: ‘Those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.’ God will get us through this. He has been our Guide since the beginning, all we have to do is trust Him.”
In August, Emily returned to UMC to have surgery to replace a portion of her skull. The McDaniels are now considering taking part in Methodist Rehab’s Quest program which focuses on community and vocational reintegration for people with traumatic brain injuries.
Emily McDaniel, seated, enjoys time with, from left, daughters Addy Morgan and Caroline and husband David.