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Having His Say

A stroke left John Hepp struggling to be understood. Then he was given the gift of assistive technology from the Women’s Giving Circle.

Independence might well have been John Hepp’s middle name. An information sciences and technology professor at Penn State Wilkes-Barre, John enjoyed being single with the freedom to just pick up and go whenever he wanted; which he often did without notice, sometimes causing his siblings to worry. “He was a loner,” says his sister Sue Francisco. “He would disappear for days or weeks.”

Rock Lake in Canada, where John vacationed as a child with his family, was a favorite getaway.

A stroke in 2017 forever changed John’s life. In fact, John, then 51, had a series of smaller strokes prior to 2017 which had gone undetected. John was significantly impaired cognitively and physically on his right side.

Sue recalls the heart-breaking diagnosis when her brother was hospitalized. “The neurologist came out and said to me, ‘Put him in a home. Forget you ever had a brother. He’ll never do anything; never speak or walk.’”

Sue and John’s other siblings were not about to give up on him and neither was Good Shepherd. After a week in an acute care hospital, John was transferred to the Good Shepherd Rehabilitation Hospital in Allentown. John began a program of intense therapy and soon was getting results. “He was walking with a walker and starting with some, physical, speech and occupational therapy,” says Sue. ”He was making very good progress, but he wasn’t ready to come home.”

John was discharged to a nursing home where his condition deteriorated. “They did 30 days of therapy. That’s it,” says Sue. “They said he wasn’t going to progress any more. He never got out of bed. He was back in a wheelchair. He was so unhappy.”

Then Sue learned about Good Shepherd’s Second Chance Program for patients with chronic conditions who have difficulties walking, talking, dressing or performing other daily living activities. John was evaluated and determined to be a candidate. With additional therapy, it was possible John could get strong enough and learn self-care skills to go live with Sue and her husband in their Bangor home. John was readmitted to Good Shepherd in spring 2018 with the goals of improving his ability to walk, climb stairs, feed himself, and perform basic daily personal care needs.

An image of Rock Lake on John’s communicator reminds him of happy times.

John achieved everything he needed to be discharged to his new home. His cognitive and speaking abilities however, remained greatly impaired, making communication difficult and frustrating. “He did a lot of pointing and gesturing,” says Sue. “He tried to write things sometimes.”

But Laura Reichl, one of John’s speech language pathologists, had a fitting tool in her arsenal that would be of great help to John: a special computer tablet with a touch screen and a pictures-based, speech-generating communication program called Proloquo2Go. The purchase, along with accessories, was made thanks to a generous donation from the Women’s Giving Circle to the Assistive Tech-nology Lending Program and Technology Assistance Fund. 

Laura loaded the device with photos of family and his therapists, favorite foods, and special places. One of those places is Rock Lake. John can more easily convey needs and emotions, too. “He can now tell us how he’s feeling, sad, happy, frustrated,” says Sue. More pictures can be added using the device’s camera or transferred from a cell phone or computer.

John is still learning how to use his communicator, but already it has made life easier for John and his family. “He’s still working at it, it’s a process, but it would be a lot harder without it,” says Sue.

The technology also has brought John closer to his four-year-old great-nephew who was only two when John had his stroke. John is proud of the short story they wrote together on the communicator.

Laura is delighted that John has the communicator and is grateful to the Women’s Giving Circle for its gift to the assistive technology fund which will help patients for many more years to come. “What a wonderful group of women,” says Laura.

Sue also is deeply grateful. “Ever since his stroke, John’s inability to convey what he wanted to say has been a source of frustration for a long time,” says Sue. “And as a family, it was heart-breaking. The communicator truly has made a difference in all our lives. We can’t say thank you enough.”

The Women’s Giving Circle is a group of philanthropic women who support Good Shepherd’s programs and services through generous donations. For more information, contact Dianne Spengler, corporate and foundation relations specialist, at [email protected] or call 610-776-3559.