When Christmas Came Early

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For six long years, Sean Timmons lay in a nursing home bed feeling helpless and hopeless. Once the owner of a successful HVAC business, Sean was cleaning his gun at home in 2012 when it accidentally discharged. The bullet pierced his chest and severed his spinal cord paralyzing his legs. He was only 57 years old.

Sean spent the next four months in the hospital. For two of those months, Sean was in a medically-induced coma. The Baltimore native finally was released to a rehabilitation facility for several weeks of physical therapy before moving to a nursing home in Maryland. Sean spent the next six years in bed, getting out only two or three times. Sean’s weight ballooned to 300 pounds. An attempt at using a manual wheelchair failed because it didn’t fit him properly.

Sean relied on caregivers for everything. He was given bed baths, shaved and shampooed a few times a month. Therapists told him he had “plateaued” making therapy futile. His legs became painfully swollen with edema and were wrapped in ace bandages. “I didn’t think or feel anything,” says Sean. “I had no hope until I got here.”

“Here” is the Good Shepherd Home-Bethlehem, where the 62-year-old former active Marine who once enjoyed scuba diving and sky diving, has been living since February 14. Fittingly, Sean’s Valentine’s Day admission marked the start of a love affair between Sean and Good Shepherd, a place where he has emerged from a dark cocoon and found happiness he thought was lost forever. “We joke around that he was our Valentine’s Day gift,” says Ingrid Baruch Lande, director of long-term care rehabilitation services and Sean’s physical therapist. “From day one he was very motivated and positive.”

Sean has his sister Patti St. Clair to thank for finding Good Shepherd. Unhappy with Sean’s quality of life in the nursing home, Patti began searching the internet from her home in Castle Rock, Colorado, hoping to find something better for her brother. Sean’s other sister, Christine Bartrum, also explored different facilities in Maryland, but as both sisters found out no one offered therapy beyond six weeks.

Sean abandoned any hope of ever having a better quality of life until Patti discovered Good Shepherd. She liked what she saw online; a brighter atmosphere for long-term care residents and a wide range of technology for helping people achieve maximum independence. Hopeful but wary of yet another disappointment, Patti called Good Shepherd and spoke with Lori Kneule, admissions coordinator for long-term care. Lori was willing to consider Sean for admission and, along with Melissa Hedden, RN, made the three-hour drive to Maryland to meet and assess Sean.

“I just couldn’t believe they took the time and effort to drive that distance to visit with him,” says Patti. “They loved his personality.  They just saw him lying in bed. From the very beginning they said they would work with him and get him in a better place. They gave us such hope.”

Sean was put on a waiting list and Lori kept in touch with Patti. In January 2018, Lori called Patti to say there was an opening. Was Sean still interested in coming to Good Shepherd?  “I was just amazed,” says Patti. “She wanted to bring Sean in. I think when I called Sean and told him he was going I’m not sure he fully comprehended at first. He was a little apprehensive.”

Whatever doubts Sean had that this move was the real deal soon dissolved after arriving at Good Shepherd. His personal care, which had largely been neglected, was quickly addressed. His long hair was cut and he was treated to a good shower. Therapists lost no time in getting Sean out of bed every morning for physical, occupational and recreational therapy. “I had no expectations,” says Sean. “They started working with me right away. I couldn’t believe it.”

Sean’s caregivers and therapists had their work cut out for them. “Sean never got to deal with his body after his spinal cord injury so he didn’t know how to be in his body,” says Ingrid. “When he came to us, because he had not been out of bed for six years, his whole body was so stiff with contractures. He had no trunk control and no ability to move anything from the waist down. I’d never dealt with anything like it.”

The team methodically coordinated Sean’s therapies. Todd Schappell, an occupational therapist, focused on exercises and activities to improve Sean’s physical, cognitive and visual skills. As part of his therapy, Sean discovered he loves working in the resident garden. “I never gardened before,” says Sean. “It smells good out there.”

Todd, who has a soft spot in his heart for veterans, also tapped in to Sean’s background as a Marine to get results. “I kind of motivated him in the same way a drill sergeant would,” Todd says with a grin.

Where he once needed five people to care for him every day, Sean now is getting stronger, regaining some movement in his legs and is able to do so much more for himself. He can sit up on his own and is working on moving himself from his bed to his wheelchair using a transfer board. Sean also is more confident about socializing thanks to speech therapy he needed but never received after the tracheostomy that was done in the hospital six years ago. “I could hardly speak in the other facility,” says Sean. “Here I’m talking a lot more and they understand me. “

Sean lost 65 pounds and has his own motor chair which he loves using to tool around at Good Shepherd and on community outings to places like Red Lobster and a local auto show. 

The man who arrived sad and helpless just a few months ago has blossomed in to the person he thought was gone forever. “I did more in five months than I did in five years,” says Sean. “I used to be independent but I lost it at the other place. Now at Good Shepherd I’m learning how to take care of myself. I’ve got everything I want.”

Sean’s family is grateful and relieved to have him back too. “I honestly do feel that if he had not gotten to Good Shepherd we were prepared to lose him,” says Patti. “Since he has been at Good Shepherd he’s like his old self before his accident. He’s so happy. I feel that God gave my family a second chance for Sean to get better.”