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Leaving Home to Get the Best Rehabilitation Care

For Chris Schoepke, 25, of Woodbridge, Va., the summer of 2010 was off to a great start. He had just graduated from college with an accounting degree and was eager to embark on the next chapter of his life. But a summer job painting houses would change everything. His very first day on the job, Chris was electrocuted when a ladder he was positioning touched a live wire.

“According to the report, 19,600 volts of electricity surged through his body,” says Chris’ mother, Debi Ives. “At first, everyone was worried about the internal injuries, but once they pulled all the machinery away, it was clear he had a brain injury from his heart stopping several times.”

Chris had always been an avid athlete and, according to emergency responders, his good physical condition and health helped him pull through. At first, he was cared for in a brain injury/ spinal cord rehabilitation facility near home. But after exhausting the resources locally available, a workers’ compensation claims manager took a special interest in Chris’ case and advocated for him to transfer to Shepherd Center’s post-acute rehabilitation program at Shepherd Pathways. The case manager was confident Shepherd’s individualized therapy, oncampus housing, transportation, family services and training, peer support and community-based reintegration programs would make a big difference in his recovery.

“It’s been like night and day,” Debi says, comparing the previous facility with Shepherd Center. “He wants to be at Shepherd. He says, ‘Mom, people care about me here, they want me to do better and improve, and I want to be here.’ It’s hard to be so far away, but the progress he is making and the true concern and care I know he is getting makes it all worth it.”

By all accounts, Chris is thriving. Since coming to Shepherd earlier this year, he and his care team have noticed progress in his memory, speech and ability to problem solve and consider various options. He is back to running despite 24 surgeries on his legs and feet as a result of the accident, and has even been begun Shepherd’s driving rehabilitation program after completing a formal driving assessment.

“It’s been a really supportive [environment],” Chris says. “It helps me know I’m not alone. There are other people going through it, too, and I’m happy here.”

At Shepherd Pathways, Chris began with fullday, individualized therapy daily and group therapy with other patients with traumatic brain injury (TBI). Compared to his previous rehabilitation experience, Shepherd Pathways is providing some answers to Chris’ questions. Also, the staff is equally concerned with his needs and goals and the more routine clinical milestones expected in TBI recovery, Chris says.

Chris Schoepke, 25, of Woodbridge, Va., works to improve cognitive skills as a patient at Shepherd Pathways, Shepherd Center’s postacute outpatient rehabilitation program for people with a brain injury. He is also working on driving skills.

Of course, the notion of sending a child of any age miles away from home to receive specialized care following this type of an injury can be anxiety-provoking for parents. Chris’ father, Steven Schoepke, visits at least once a month, while also juggling a business and family life. He says that even though it may be difficult for families to let go of their protective instincts, it’s often the right thing to do, depending on the severity of the injury.

“There was a point when I was fighting my caregiver-rescuer nature, and they knew it, so I pulled back for a little while,” Steve recalls. “I needed to let go so Chris could fully integrate into Shepherd’s programs, gain some independence, and build his confidence.”

For Chris’ parents, Shepherd’s efforts to engage them in the rehabilitation process – even from afar – have not gone unnoticed. In fact, when Chris had a comprehensive neuropsychological evaluation, his parents were included in the feedback session by phone so they could be part of this informationsharing and ask questions.

“They have been extremely pleased with everything that’s been done. They aren’t having to push people to do what they need to do. It’s just being done,” says Patricia McFall, RN, an external worker’s comp case manager at GENEX who was assigned to Chris’ case.

Patricia is also extremely happy with the care Chris has received. She attributes much of the success to Shepherd’s team approach and focus on Chris’ personal goals.

“His needs are being anticipated, and we are being really proactive in trying to get him back to where he was,” says Patricia, who has worked in partnership with Kendra Moon, a case manager at Shepherd Pathways, to review different scenarios for Chris. “Chris’ outlook has been so positive. It would’ve been very easy for him to retreat, but he’s working 1,000 percent toward his goals.”

And it seems the hard work is paying off. In the late summer, Chris began living in Spring Creek House, Shepherd’s long-term, supportedliving residence for people with brain injury. It is designed for people who have completed most of their skilled rehabilitation and are ready to live in the community, but still need 24-hour support. This has provided more independence for Chris, who was most excited about being reunited with his beloved dog, “Cooley” (a Dalmatian mix named after his favorite Washington Redskin football player). This is a first at Spring Creek, and his rehabilitation team suspects Cooley is providing added therapeutic benefits for Chris. The next goal, Patricia says, is to help Chris gain employment.

“Shepherd is so tuned into the life-cycle needs of patients with traumatic brain injuries from the point of rescue and stabilization all the way to helping them reintegrate into society, and they involve the family in the process,” Steve says. “I’ve seen such an improvement in Chris. His sense of humor is coming back, so much so he recently played a practical joke on his mom by sending her a photo of a fake tattoo with a note that said, ‘I finally gave in and got one.’”

For Chris and other people with TBI, the best approach is to take one day at a time. Fortunately, Chris has found a home away from home that he says is helping him get back on track.

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.