This Mother’s Day, Shepherd Center Celebrates Mothers who Serve as Constant Source of Love and Support
Reda Lewis becomes caregiver and strongest advocate in the wake of her son’s aneurysm.
Reda Lewis recalls the days following her son’s aneurysm and subsequent stroke with remarkable detail – even though almost three years have passed. She flips through the pages of a notebook with dog-eared pages and a well-worn cover. She reads the notes aloud as she tells the story of her son, Matt, and his long and continuous road to recovery.
“On Feb. 9, Matt came to Shepherd Center,” Reda reads. “We told him where he was, and he repeated to us, ‘Shepherd.’ That was the first time in a long time that he seemed to know where he was.”
The next note she reads is: “On Feb. 19, Matt’s nurse asked him how he was. For the first time, he told her that he was ‘all right.’”
Reda has notebooks full of meticulous notes and an iPad with photos documenting Matt’s recovery. She even has texts saved from her older son, a doctor, explaining complex medical terms.
“Well, that’s what mothers, do, right?” Reda says when complimented on her organization and incredible attention to detail.
As the mother of three grown sons all in their 30s, Reda’s days of hands-on parenting – driving the boys here and there, keeping them on top of their homework and attending school events – had passed. All of that changed when on July 13, 2013, her youngest son Matt awoke at his home with a terrible headache that would not go away. When hours – and then an entire day – passed with no relief, Matt’s parents came over to his house to check on him.
“He was still talking, but I could see on his face that something was wrong,” Reda recalls. “When we got to the hospital, they told us he had a massive aneurysm that had already ruptured. He was lucky to be alive, much less to be able to communicate.”
The days that followed were a full of ups and downs. Two surgeries appeared successful at first, but eventually bleeding in his brain and vasospasms – spasms in Matt’s arteries – led doctors to place Matt in an induced coma to give his brain time to heal. While he was in a coma, he had an ischemic stroke.
“They told us to expect when he woke up that he would never walk or speak,” Reda says. “They gave him a two percent chance of functioning again. I couldn’t accept that.”
The youngest of three boys, Matt was a consummate jokester and often the life of the party among a large group of friends and family. He had always been active with a good sense of humor. He was talented musically and a gifted performer. He went to college and had a job. He was a father. To think that he would not walk or talk again were unimaginable consequences of the aneurysm and stroke.
Matt spent 30 days in the intensive care unit at a local hospital and then transferred to a long-term acute care hospital in Statesboro, Ga., a long drive for Matt’s Atlanta-based family. Every week, Reda would spend three days in a hotel in Statesboro so she could be with Matt. The rest of the week, she went back to Atlanta to care for Matt’s young daughter.
Always an advocate for her son, Reda began researching alternatives for Matt’s care. On Christmas Eve of 2013 – also her own birthday – Reda contacted Shepherd Center.
“I took a chance and called Shepherd Center on Christmas Eve, thinking for sure that no one would be there during the holidays,” Reda says. “I got (former access case manager) Cannon Peppers on the phone. He was so helpful and said he’d put us in touch with the right person.”
Next, Reda got a call from access case manager Kelly Williams. Kelly met Reda and Matt in Statesboro to evaluate him for admission to Shepherd Center.
“My first impression was that Reda is more than a caregiver for Matthew,” Kelly says. “She is his advocate and his cheerleader.”
Matt came to Shepherd Center in February 2014. In the months that followed, Matt underwent extensive speech, physical and occupational therapy in Shepherd Center's Brain Injury Rehabilitation Program. He made steady gains, with Reda always by his side.
“Reda never expected that Matt would go back to exactly the way he was before, and she was accepting of that, while always finding joy in the milestones he’s reached, ” Kelly says. “She truly lives in the present. The reason Matt continues to improve is because of the love and strength of his mother.”
Matt stayed at Shepherd Center through May 2014, when he moved to Shepherd Pathways, Shepherd Center’s post-acute outpatient rehabilitation program for people recovering from brain injuries. He also recently had tendon transfer surgery done by Allan Peljovich, M.D., MPH, a consulting orthopedic surgeon at Shepherd Center.
“I knew immediately that Shepherd Center was the right place for Matt,” Reda recalls. “Everyone there has that same spirit we had of ‘don’t give up.’ Other places had spent a lot of time telling us all of the things Matthew wouldn’t be able to do. At Shepherd Center, they talked more about the things he could do.”
Matt lives with Reda, his dad Willie and his daughter Janiyah. He continues therapy from home. His favorite thing to do is watch reality TV shows – with his mother.
SIDEBAR: Mothering Through Tragedy: Tips from a Mom Who’s Been There
- Take things as they come. “The first time I met [Shepherd Center co-founder] James Shepherd, I told him I was taking things day by day,” Reda recalls. “He encouraged me to slow down and take things minute by minute and hour by hour. That advice helped me through some of our tougher days when the progress seemed slow.”
- Find your support system. Support systems can come in all shapes and sizes. “You might find that your circle gets smaller when something like this happens,” Reda says. “Seek out the people who accept you and your family as you are. You don’t need a whole army of people – just those who will stick by you.” Reda has found comfort in their church family.
- Make time for yourself. Find ways to sneak in time for yourself, your mind and your body. “When I drop off my granddaughter at dance class or swim lessons, I use that time to go for a walk. That’s my time.” Reda also volunteers at a local elementary school. Reda finds enrichment in the total change of scenery and pace.
- Find things that keep you positive. Reda has several songs she knows lift both her and Matt’s moods. “It’s all about staying positive,” Reda says. “I always remind Matthew and myself that where we are today is not where we’re going to be tomorrow. When I play certain songs, he knows we’re not going to spend any more time being negative.”
By Kerry Ludlam
Shepherd Center, located in Atlanta, Georgia, is a private, not-for-profit hospital specializing in medical treatment, research and rehabilitation for people with spinal cord injury, brain injury, multiple sclerosis, spine and chronic pain, and other neuromuscular conditions. Founded in 1975, Shepherd Center is ranked by U.S. News & World Report among the top 10 rehabilitation hospitals in the nation. In its more than four decades, Shepherd Center has grown from a six-bed rehabilitation unit to a world-renowned, 152-bed hospital that treats more than 900 inpatients, 575 day program patients and more than 7,100 outpatients each year.