As a third-generation first responder, David Jones takes pride in his job as a volunteer fireman and as a city employee charged with maintaining the fire station, trucks, and equipment. In fact, he hopes one day to have children who will continue the family tradition. However, a sudden illness put all of that in jeopardy.
“One day I wasn’t feeling well and went home early. I didn’t think much of it,” the 29-year-old Jones remembers. By the next day, he was unable to work and went to the emergency room. After a few days under observation, he was sent home again only to fall several times before returning to the hospital. “I was mentally and physically out of it. They diagnosed me with a condition that paralyzed me from the stomach down. I had to learn to walk again and regain my fine motor skills. I didn’t know what I was going to do.”
After 31 days in the hospital, a clinical liaison for Vibra Rehabilitation Hospital of Amarillo discussed his case with Tammie Tabor, CEO.
“He was denied by the acute care hospital’s rehab unit, and we were his last chance,” Tabor says. “We were extremely hesitant about his ability to make progress, as he was only able to tolerate 10 degrees on a tilt table before losing consciousness. I told the liaison, ‘Pray that we get approval for enough days to make a difference in this man’s life.’”
Both the patient and the staff were unsure of what could be achieved, but they were equally determined to succeed.
“When he first came here, nobody knew what he would do; we had no clue what goals he would meet,” remembers Sabrina Johnson, PTA. “But, we have such an amazing team of nursing and therapy in this facility, I had complete faith. I knew if anyone could get him better, we could do it here.”
In the days and weeks that followed, the staff would focus on achieving small goals, each one building on the last success.
“My first week there I was miserable. All I could think was how long is this going to take and all the work I have ahead of me,” Jones says. “[The staff] said don’t worry about everything ahead of you. Just worry about what you need to do today. It has to be done in small steps. They were very motivating and encouraging.”
One of his first goals was to sit up in bed without passing out. Working as a team with the physician, they started Jones on a medication that increased his ability to stand without passing out.
“Once we did that, we were able to get him up and out of the room,” explains Cathy Outman, RN, adding that it meant a lot to see him getting out of bed. “His success became everybody’s success–day shift and night shift. When he began moving his extremities, they began crying because they were so glad.”
Often times when patients come from the hospital, they haven’t had a warm shower in a while. Part of Jolene Lang’s job as the occupational therapist was to make that happen.
“What might seem trivial, meant the world to him. Working up to a point where he could get in a shower, on a chair that reclines back, was one of my favorite moments,” she says. “He felt clean, fresh, and new.”
Once he was able to tolerate sitting in the wheelchair, the therapists looked to the next goal. First the parallel bars and then the walker.
“I would either succeed or halfway do it before stumbling,” Jones remembers. “They would always catch me, and we would just keep pushing through until we accomplished it.”
About a week and a half before he discharged, his therapy team decided to do a home evaluation. Although they don’t normally travel outside of Amarillo, they drove one-and-a-half hours roundtrip to his home in Dalhart, Texas.
“I put him through the wringer," says Karem Ralls, PT. "I made him walk through his house, reach for things in the cabinet, open the refrigerator, get in and out of bed, get in the bathroom and get in the shower. I had him do everything, and recommendations were made to make it safe for him." Ralls adds that before they left, Jones broke down. “He was very happy he got to come home. He didn’t want to leave. It was sad and happy at the same time. You are happy he got to this point, but sad he had to go through this ordeal.”
At this point in Jones’s treatment, he had progressed through multiple goals, but his ultimate hope was that he would be able to get back on a fire truck.
“One of the things he mentioned was that his biggest fear was that he would never climb onto a truck again,” explains Johnson. After discussing this with her team, she pulled some favors and arranged for the Potter County Fire Department to bring a fire truck to the hospital the day before he discharged. Determined not to let him fail, she set up a variety of obstacle courses, staggered steps, and chairs to put him through to ensure he was ready. “He climbed absolutely everything. It was so hard for him, but after that, I knew he could do it.”
The next day when the fire company arrived, Jones stood up and shook the hand of every firefighter. Then, without another thought, he threw on the wheelchair brakes and climbed up onto the truck.
“It never crossed his mind that he couldn’t do it,” Johnson says. “They closed the doors and turned on the siren. The tears just flowed. He took a ride around the parking lot with the lights and sirens on. When he came back, he climbed out of that thing with no problem at all.”
Jones admits it was a very emotional experience.
“That was the first time that I felt like, ‘I can do this. I’m going to get my life back to what it was,’” he says. “I had 100 percent confidence in myself that things were going to be okay.”
Thirty-five days after he admitted to Vibra on a stretcher, Jones walked out the door using a walker and returned to his apartment. Today, he continues outpatient therapy, no longer needs the walker, and occasionally uses a cane in the morning.
“For the most part, I am doing pretty well. I am able to get in my kitchen and cook,” he says. “I notice every couple of days that there is an improvement of some kind. Or, I unconsciously do something I used to do and don’t realize it until 10 minutes later.”
Back at his job on light duty restrictions, Jones is thankful for his recovery.
“There were days when I was tired, and I just didn’t care anymore. But between my mom, dad, Sabrina, Karem, Sydney, Sue Ann, and Jolene, they wouldn’t let me quit,” he says. “The staff are very passionate about what they do and it rubs off on the patient. If it weren’t for them, I don’t know where I would be.”
An Update from David: Moving Forward One Year Later
My transition home from Vibra has been anything but easy this last year. Compared to this time last year I'm doing very well. I’m still making small improvements in lots of areas of my life. But it is really frustrating to struggle being able to remember simple everyday things and even using a computer keyboard with great accuracy and dexterity. It seems the smaller or more simple a task, the more focus it takes.
Back at my job, I have restrictions that keep me from doing my job the same way I could before my illness. Considering all I have been through, the restrictions are necessary but it does have its frustrations. My monthly neurology and other doctor visits are ongoing and I’m hopeful the doctors will give me a full release back to work very soon. Balance is still an issue on some days along with vision. However, heat tolerance and heart rate has greatly improved. Being fatigued easily is getting better as well. All my brothers with the fire department keep encouraging me not to give up. Probably the most difficult thing has been to sit back on the fire calls and be on standby if they need someone to bring a pumper truck or water tanker. I miss it but I’m in a much better place now than a year ago. And having their support makes a huge difference in morale and gives me hope. Don’t know what I would do without them in my life.
Thanks to Sabrina, Karem, Sydney, Sue Ann, Jolene, Chaysen, Kevin, Eric and everyone else at Vibra I have so much to be grateful for. My tree trimming business had to take a back seat for several months but I’ve gradually been able to get it going again.
Another accomplishment I’m proud of is the ability to get back on my mountain bike and kayak. This had to be one of the most challenging activities since I literally had to relearn how to ride a bike again! It was a little embarrassing the first few times I tried. There’s a church parking lot across the street from my house where I started practicing making loops around the church until I felt comfortable riding on the trails again. Being so weak and uncoordinated made it hard to keep my balance on the bike. I couldn’t even go 100 feet in the beginning and fell on occasion. I made a phone call to a friend on the first long-distance ride to come load me up in their vehicle and take me home because I couldn’t make it. But I love to ride and was determined to be active again. Now I’m able to ride for miles and miles at the trails around town!
I know I have a way to go with my recovery, and Vibra continues to be there for me. I appreciate all my fire department brothers, family, friends and community support that have rallied around me. I have so much to be thankful for.Posted By