When Ben May recalls his time as a patient at Encompass Health Lakeshore Rehabilitation Hospital two names come to mind.
“First there was Ashley,” the Birmingham, Alabama resident recalled. “Then there was Anna. These two made all the difference in the world.”
Ashley Kalil was his physical therapist, and Anna Jones served as his occupational therapist when May was recovering at Encompass Health Lakeshore after falling from his rooftop. May was blowing leaves off the roof of his house Nov. 10, 2018, when he lost his footing, sending him crashing into the concrete below. He broke nine bones—all on his left side.
“I broke my heal, femur, pelvis, elbow, two places in my wrist and my thumb,” he said. “I don’t remember any of it.”
He was in the hospital for two weeks before being admitted to Encompass Health Lakeshore. When his therapists first met him, his body was battered and broken—a vast difference when he strolled in the doors of the inpatient rehabilitation hospital to visit them some seven months later.
However, anyone who met May while in therapy, wouldn’t be surprised. He was motivated the moment he was admitted, and for good reason. May’s wife, Sally, was recently diagnosed with breast cancer at the time of his accident.
“I was so ready to get back to home,” May said. “This happened three to five months into her illness, so there was someone at home who needed me very much.”
At 58, May’s prognosis was good, but his bones still wouldn’t heal as fast as they once did. Doctors prescribed 12 weeks of non-weight bearing activities, and at least a year to make a full recovery.
May could hardly sit upright at the time of admission, so he’d have to start small.
Back to the basics
Both Kalil and Jones remember the first day they met May.
“He was really banged up,” Jones recalled. “He really could only move one limb.”
Yet, May was highly motivated to return home to his wife. Kalil and Jones were equally committed to help him do so.
They started by working on everyday tasks that May now knows he always took for granted—dressing himself and using the bathroom and bathing on his own.
Kaili, as his physical therapist, worked on building his strength. “I wanted him to be able to push his wheelchair and get out of bed,” she said.
Jones, as his occupational therapist, worked my on his daily activities, such buttoning his shirt, or balancing on his one good leg to put on his pants.
His Encompass Health Lakeshore team also helped him manage his medication. With nine broken bones, May needed some pain medications, but he also wanted to be alert and able to withstand the three hours of therapy, five days a week that he was to receive at the hospital.
Once he was able to master some of those daily tasks, he was ready to prepare for his journey home.
May’s wife, Sally, was key in making that journey successful, Kalil and Jones said.
They worked with her to learn about their home, such as the height of their bed and the width of their hallways, so May could practice getting in and out of bed and maneuvering his wheelchair in advance of his return home.
Though her illness prevented her from frequent visits to the hospital, Sally did arrive at the hospital days before May’s discharge to help him practice getting in and out of the car. Kalil said she didn’t want any surprises for the couple when they left the hospital, so practicing this particular transfer was an important one, as well as enjoyable one.
“It was one of our favorite days with them,” Kalil recalled. “There were challenges, but we looked at the vehicle to figure out the best way to get him in and out.”
Quite a comeback
May left Encompass Health Lakeshore in a wheelchair. When he returned about seven months later to visit his therapists, he strolled through the door without a hitch in his step.
He said he’s about 80 percent back to where he was before his fall. He’s back at work as a sales rep for the SEC at ESPN, and he’s walking two miles a day; before his fall, he walked three miles a day.
Kaili and Jones weren’t surprised to see their former patient walk back into their hospital, but the sight still brought tears of joy to all three.
“His motivation, and his joy for life … he really inspired us,” Kalil said. “He’s what makes us want to come to work every day.”
To May, Kalil and Jones are what allow him to go back to work every day, and more importantly be with his wife, who is now in remission, he’s ecstatic to report.
“These people, and this hospital was a gift for me,” he said. “I was so ready to get back home to help my wife. Because of them, my family didn’t have to worry about what are we going to do about Ben.”