Around DeKalb Medical Long Term Acute Care (LTAC), Jerry Treadwell is known as “The Christmas Eve Guy.” That’s because on Christmas Eve morning 2008, the 66-year-old Conyers resident did something his wife, Jo Anne, never thought he’d do: Jerry emerged from a seven-week-long coma and, struggling with a tracheotomy in his throat, mouthed to the nurse, “Call my wife!” He had conquered a stroke, several seizures and acute respiratory failure in time to wish Jo Anne a Merry Christmas.
Jerry had been admitted to DeKalb Medical LTAC in early December in a comatose state after spending 29 days in another Atlanta-area hospital, where he had been diagnosed with adult respiratory distress syndrome and put on a respirator. Upon arrival at LTAC, Jerry was on a feeding tube for all nutrition and required total care for bed mobility and all daily living activities. Due to a lack of alertness and poor medical status, Jerry was unable to tolerate aggressive therapy.
Jerry’s care plan involved weaning him off the respirator and getting him breathing independently. Over 33 days, he endured an arduous process of specialized care and therapy led by LTAC respiratory specialists and carried out by a cross-disciplinary team of physical, speech and occupational therapists and specially trained nurses. During this time, Jerry’s condition was compromised by several seizures and minimal responsiveness. By mid December, there was little hope of his regaining consciousness—and if he did regain consciousness, there was question whether his mental state would be diminished.
Then came that unforgettable Christmas Eve morning when Jerry surprised his family and his care team by waking up from the coma with that sudden enthusiastic request to call his wife. “Jerry was indeed a Christmas Miracle,” remembers Jo Anne. “On Christmas day he was actually sitting up in bed— something we never expected he would do again.”
With a combination of physical, speech and occupational therapy, Jerry was soon tolerating three hours of therapy daily. On January 6, 2009, he was discharged to DeKalb Medical’s main campus for additional aggressive rehabilitation. By that time he was able to walk 10 feet independently, required minimal assistance with daily living tasks and was eating a diet of soft foods.
Although Jerry couldn’t remember a thing, Jo Anne assured him afterwards that he had been in good hands all the way through. “Even though the outlook was dim for so long, there was always a sense of hope [among LTAC staff],” Jo Anne recalls. “Everyone on his care team continued doing everything possible to help him get better.”
Assuming that Jerry might not recall much of his experience, Jo Anne kept a daily diary documenting every step of his progress. She’s grateful she did, too. “Jerry doesn’t remember a thing and doesn’t want to,” Jo Anne says. “But if he ever changes his mind, I’ve got it all ready.”