Swimming in a sea of uncertainty, a seemingly routine tour of On With Life provided clarity that Jeanie Thomas hadn't experienced in months. Moving through the hallways of On With Life's Post-Acute Inpatient Rehabilitation program she saw smiling faces, heard laughter and witnessed up close a bright and cheerful environment that convinced her that this was the place her daughter, Genevieve, needed to be.
Genevieve, who was 22 years old at the time, was in need of intensive rehabilitation after spending months in the hospital - and nearly dying - after falling ill from bacterial meningitis. Always an independent soul according to her mother, Genevieve left Iowa in pursuit of a faster pace of life when she graduated from high school. She was loving life in New Jersey when she came down with the potentially fatal condition. Jeanie remembers vividly taking a call from the hospital asking for permission to perform some advanced testing on her daughter.
"They wanted to do a spinal tap and I was confused why they were calling me to ask, because Genevieve was an adult," Jeanie recalls. "They explained that she was very ill and if they didn't do the test, she might die."
Jeanie knew she needed to get to New Jersey immediately. With the help of her church - where Jeanie's husband and Genevieve's father, Kevin, was a pastor - the Thomases hopped on a flight the next morning to be by their daughter's side. For weeks in the New Jersey hospital, the Thomases played a waiting game. A series of risky, but necessary, interventions slowly improved Genevieve's odds of surviving.
"It was a full five weeks before they were confident she was going to survive," Jeanie says. "That said, they didn't know how long the recovery was going to be. They knew that it was going to be months and years, instead of days and weeks and they were upfront in telling us that. That helped us to properly prepare for what we had ahead of us."
The first milestone in Genevieve's recovery was simply leaving New Jersey. After seven weeks on a unit for persons with neurological emergencies, she was flown to Mercy Medical Center in Des Moines before being transferred to the Post-Acute Inpatient Neuro Rehabilitation program at On With Life.
"Initially, we didn't know what we were going to do," Jeanie remembers. "We were fortunate that Genevieve fought hard enough to improve to the point that On With Life, which is almost literally in our backyard, was an option." Jeanie says
Genevieve entered On With Life on a stretcher and they knew little about what to expect during the time she would be there. They were confident, however, that she was in the "right" place.
The Thomases entered On With Life as it was in the midst of its largest facility expansion ever. The project expanded the inpatient area, added treatment areas that Genevieve would benefit from including a new therapy pool and permanent outpatient facility.
Despite the construction, what the Thomases found on that initial tour - the bright and cheerful environment - was reinforced as Genevieve entered therapy. Jeanie says it wasn't all fun and games for her daughter, or for she and her husband. But it was exactly what they needed.
"The communication, as much as anything, was important," Jeanie says. "We felt comfortable letting the staff know that Genevieve didn't need a cheerleader, she needed more of a drill sergeant. They took that to heart and were encouraging while always pushing her to do more."
It wasn't long before Genevieve was reaching milestones in her recovery. From responding to verbal cues and sitting up on her own to eventually moving herself around in a wheelchair.
"They weren't afraid to give her difficult stuff to do," Jeanie says. "They knew what she needed to get better and they pushed her to get there."
"As we do with all of our persons served, we really personalized Genevieve's therapy to her interests, which included music, shopping, painting and cooking," said Kelsee Hove, occupational therapist at On With Life. "Involving her in the process made her more excited about therapy."
Today, Genevieve is living at home with Jeanie and Kevin while receiving continued therapy in the On With Life Outpatient program. Jeanie says Genevieve recently completed physical therapy and will soon finish occupational and speech therapy. Looking back over the last year and a half, a few things stand out for Jeanie.
"God is the one who preserved my daughter's life, Genevieve tells me she feels that in her heart," Jeanie says. "And at On With Life, we were shown by her providers - therapists, nurses, counselors and physicians - that they loved her and they were committed to her care. It was meaningful to see so many of them at her graduation to tell her that she was an inspiration to them.
"The staff at On With Life is committed to bringing dignity back to life for persons living with brain injuries," she continues. "I have no doubt that God gave my daughter her life back through the work of some very skilled professionals."