Jamie Srubas, 48, of Acworth, Ga., experienced a stroke this past summer while visiting his parents in South Carolina, just two days after his fiancée, Tami Florio, quit her job in Michigan and prepared to move to Georgia.
After speaking with Jamie's parents and brother, Tami packed up and drove to Georgia a week later. The day after she arrived, she drove to South Carolina where Jamie was hospitalized. He had lost the use of an arm and a leg and the ability to think and speak clearly.
“It broke my heart,” Tami says. “I cried all the way back to Georgia. I was thankful he was alive, but he was vulnerable and very dependent, and that’s not who Jamie is.”
Despite the changed circumstances, Tami says: “We never wavered in our plans for our life together. I was more nervous that he would never walk because he was so fiercely independent.”
A few days later, Jamie was transferred to Shepherd Center for rehabilitation.
"It was instantly comforting," Tami says. "We had a fantastic nurse who explained everything well and even added a little humor to make us feel comfortable. She said, ‘We’re going to get him better.’ After a tour of the floor, I knew it was family oriented. My daughter, McKenna, was 10 and didn’t know a soul, and I would have to bring her with me.
“Everyone was so kind, making sure our needs were met. Even the housekeeper, Todra Bellamy, was warm and motherly. She gave me her cell number and said to call her day or night, even if I just needed to cry. Who does something like that?”
For Jamie, much of his recovery was confusing and frustrating.
“I was thinking that any day now I’d wake up and be able to stand and walk,” he says. “I was an athlete in high school and a Mach 5, hair-on-fire kind of guy. Boy, I had a rude awakening.”
Jamie says he was an impatient patient, wanting to do more for himself than he was actually ready to do.
Melanie Parker, his physical therapist, says Jamie was a great patient. “He was so motivated,” she recalls. “He wanted to get back on his feet, go back to work and get married. But sometimes he wanted to do more than was safe. Tami took on a big job as his caregiver, and we worked to make it manageable and safe for both of them."
Renee Wright, Jamie's case manager, says the couple’s story is beautiful. “Tami picked up her life and daughter and moved down here after his stroke,” Wright explains. “She had an opportunity not to follow through with their plans because their future was forever changed. It was amazing to see her sit by his side when he was so confused and nothing made sense to him.”
During his 29 days as an inpatient, Jamie found that visits to the hospital’s Secret Garden made him feel everything was going to be OK.
“It was a place where we could cry, talk, be angry, but, most of all, feel really blessed,” Tami says. “Regardless of what we were going through, we had so much to be thankful for.”
When they visited the hospital this past September, Jamie was walking with crutches, and they decided to be married in the garden. When the wedding was held on Dec. 13 (at 3:16 p.m., or 12-13-14 15:16 military time), Jamie walked unassisted.
The wedding party included Tami's daughter, McKenna, now 11.
“She talks about Shepherd Center all the time,” Tami says. “She tells everyone what they did for Jamie and for us, and says that when she gets older, she wants to work there.”
For more information about stroke rehabilitation at Shepherd Center, click here.
Written By John Christensen
Photos by Phil Skinner
Shepherd Center, located in Atlanta, Ga., is a private, not-for-profit hospital specializing in medical treatment, research and rehabilitation for people with spinal cord injury or brain injury. Founded in 1975, Shepherd Center is ranked by U.S. News & World Report among the top 10 rehabilitation hospitals in the nation and is a 152-bed facility. Last year Shepherd Center had 965 admissions to its inpatient programs and 571 to its day patient programs. In addition, Shepherd Center sees more than 6,600 people annually on an outpatient basis. For more information, visit Shepherd Center online at www.shepherd.org