Atlanta, GA,
11:51 AM

Creating Connections

After Phillip Thrash experienced a stroke two years ago, he and his wife Julie drew upon all of Shepherd Center’s resources to prepare them for the journey to recovery.

After nearly 30 years together, Phillip Thrash and his wife Julie’s love and respect for each other has only grown stronger. When Phillip experienced a stroke two years ago at the age of 54, Julie poured her energy into getting him the best possible care and supporting his recovery. Phillip has made incredible progress with his hard work, Julie’s love and support, and the resources she has assembled.

After his stroke, Phillip spent seven weeks in the Neuroscience Intensive Care Unit at the University of Cincinnati Medical Center, where he was treated for numerous complications, including pneumonia. Phillip then transferred to a long-term acute care center to begin being weaned from his ventilator. When the facility was ready to discharge him a month later, he was still unconscious and using a ventilator to breathe.

“People from two different angles were telling me he needs to get to Shepherd,” Julie says. “Our family from one side and a friend who is a physical therapist on the other.”

On December 23, 2020, Phillip flew to Atlanta in an air ambulance while Julie drove from Cincinnati. Because of precautions during the Covid-19 pandemic, Julie stayed in the room with Phillip for the 73 days he was an inpatient. During that time, he was weaned from his ventilator and emerged from his disorder of consciousness.

While therapists worked with Phillip, Julie was busy gathering information about Phillip’s condition and available resources.  

“I took advantage of every course Shepherd had, every family support group, every brain injury education class, everything,” she says.  “I thought, ‘Just give me the information because otherwise, how are we going to make decisions down the road?’ The education at Shepherd has been invaluable.”

Phillip completed the inpatient Brain Injury Rehabilitation Program and Pathways, Shepherd Center’s outpatient program for people recovering from brain injuries. He and Julie returned to Cincinnati in May 2021, but Phillip experienced a setback — he developed hydrocephalus and needed a shunt to drain excess fluid from his brain. The silver lining — insurance allowed Phillip to return to Shepherd Center for more therapy.

This time, while he was an inpatient, Phillip and his care team worked on improving his swallowing and walking, and Phillip began to talk some.

“I started functioning again as a human being,” he says.

Phillip says that his memories began again during his second time at Pathways.

“I started a second life. That's when I have a memory that is relatively coherent,” he explains.

He also started walking on his own and got his feeding tube removed.

The stroke resulted in aphasia, which affects Phillip’s ability to find the right words to express his thoughts but does not affect his intelligence. He shared how much he has felt Julie’s love and support throughout his recovery.

“I didn't really know what was wrong with me. I just knew I had some serious problems, and I was going through the motions that Julie set in place because I knew I loved her, and I assumed she loved me because there was no way anybody could be doing everything she was doing for me unless she loved me,” he explains.

Phillip says aphasia is challenging, not only because of the frustration of trying to communicate but also dealing with the way people react.

“I read people too much — I can see when people are staring at me oddly, and that throws me,” he explains.

That makes him even more appreciative of his close group of loving and supportive friends.

“I'm surrounded by a small group of people who are my best friends in the world.”

For Julie, in addition to support from friends and family, Shepherd's family peer support groups were crucial, so now she volunteers her time to help others.

“I got so much out of it, particularly early on; anything I can do to share or offer advice or support to anybody going through this, I am more than happy to do that,” she explains.

Phillip’s recovery continues – with ups and downs. One big hurdle was dealing with fatigue and brain fog, a side effect of one of his medications. But Phillip is working hard to establish new connections in his brain, while Julie connects him with all the resources she can find.

Phillip has participated in intensive rehabilitation to work on his communication skills. He also follows a home exercise program and uses apps his speech therapist recommended. He has plans for his next woodworking projects, and he and Julie are even trying hiking again. 

“I'm working every day to get it a little bit better,” he says.

Written by Ruth Underwood

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About Shepherd Center

Shepherd Center provides world-class clinical care, research, and family support for people experiencing the most complex conditions, including spinal cord and brain injuries, multi-trauma, traumatic amputations, stroke, multiple sclerosis, and pain. An elite center recognized as both Spinal Cord Injury and Traumatic Brain Injury Model Systems, Shepherd Center is ranked by U.S. News as one of the nation’s top hospitals for rehabilitation. Shepherd Center treats thousands of patients annually with unmatched expertise and unwavering compassion to help them begin again.