On an otherwise ordinary day, within the confines of their home in the tiny northeast Iowa town of Wadena, life turned upside down in an instant for the Aeschliman family. At the age of 11, Chase Aeschliman suffered a stroke and set into motion a series of events that left the family of five reeling.
"It was the first day of school for Chase and he had football practice after school," mom, Laine, remembers of August 24, 2015. "On the way home you could tell something was wrong. We found out after he was airlifted to the hospital that he had a dissection of his carotid artery which caused a stroke."
While they will never know what exactly led to the dissection, the resulting stroke caused a brain injury in Chase. He was in intensive care at a medical center in LaCrosse, Wisc., for four days and spent a total of 11 days there. During that time, Laine and husband, Kenny, began the process of identifying rehabilitation options for Chase.
"We had a lot of people reach out to us, many we didn't even know, while Chase was in the hospital," Laine says. "They spoke very highly of On With Life and encouraged us to give it a look even though it was quite a way from home. We wanted what was best for Chase and, in every interaction we had with On With Life, we felt like it was our best decision."
When Chase left LaCrosse in an ambulance to begin his rehabilitation at On With Life's Post-Acute Inpatient Rehabilitation program in Ankeny, he couldn't speak and had lost any meaningful use of the right side of his body. Laine said it was hard to imagine what the family had in store.
"I was blind on what to expect," she says. "I was still in shock and trying to process everything. I didn't know if he would walk again, or if he would talk or if he would get back to being that kid who could make me laugh so easily."
Upon arrival at On With Life, Chase immediately began intense therapy, including occupational, physical, speech, recreational and music therapy. The On With Life team encouraged the family to remain involved in the process of helping Chase regain his strength, his speech and his independence. Laine says being at On With Life quickly began to feel like home away from home.
Whenever possible, Chase's brothers, Lincoln, now 10, and Brock, now 5, were incorporated in his therapy. From doing pushups together to keeping their big brother focused on meeting his goals and maximizing his therapy, a dose of "chaos" (as Laine calls it) went a long way toward restoring a resemblance of normalcy.
"Chase quickly made connections with other persons served here and between them, his family and the staff, he had a big cheering section supporting him and encouraging him," said Stephanie Schmid, Chase's occupational therapist at On With Life.
"Some of the sessions I had with Chase - camping in our therapy gyms and playing basketball in our aquatic therapy pool - are ones I'll remember forever."
Further fostering that feeling of normalcy, the family was among the first to take advantage of a new offering at On With Life. Late in Chase's stay, the Aeschlimans began to stay weekends at the new Family Guest House on the On With Life campus.
"That last month it was so much easier to be right there on site, to have access to a kitchen so we could cook our own meals, and just to have all the amenities of home," says Laine, who was so appreciative of the Family Guest House, that she often tidied up around the house by making beds, vacuuming and more during the week.
"It truly became our home away from home."
Now, more than a year removed from their experience, the Aeschlimans feel like they have gained a second family. Building that relationship started from day one.
"They planted a seed of optimism in me and Kenny," Laine says. "We were included in everything Chase did so we could grow along with him. We feel so fortunate to have had the opportunity to work side-by-side with Chase's team."
In a lot of ways, despite the circumstances, the Aeschlimans feel like they were favored by fortune. Now that Chase is back to cracking them up, they are humbled by the care they received.
"Even though it may have been more convenient to pick a facility closer to us," Laine says, "there have been several times where Kenny and I have looked at one another and said we are so glad that we chose On With Life. It is the best decision we could have made for Chase and for our family."
"Even when we go back to visit today," she continues, "we walk through those doors and we feel like we are being greeted by family. I think Chase misses all those who helped him a lot more than he ever thought he would."
And his team at On With Life miss him too.
"Recovery doesn't stop after three months, six months or a year, and Chase is a great example of that," Stephanie says. "He was up for every challenge we gave him and both he and his family found ways to continue working outside the therapy day, and they're continuing to do that even after On With Life. It's great to see Chase still pushing himself, trying new things, and continuing to improve."
THE FAMILY GUEST HOUSE
The five-bedroom Family Guest House is located on On With Life's Ankeny campus and is a comfortable environment for family members of persons served as they support their loved one during the rehabilitation process. The primary goal in making the Family Guest House available is to make life a little easier for families during a difficult time.
Offered at no charge, On With Life subsidizes this benefit in light of its commitment to the vision of our founding families to "passionately serve and relentlessly advocate to create life-enriching opportunities for person impacted by brain injury."
To learn more about making a gift in support of the Family Guest House, please contact Sara Wilson at 515-289-9611 or firstname.lastname@example.org.