On February 5, Donnie and Jill Acuff’s 5-year-old son, Reese, was in a snowmobiling accident that resulted in a brain injury. After 5 brutal days, Donnie and Jill were told that Reese would live, but he was sedated to protect his brain. The doctors stressed how critical rehabilitation would be in Reese’s recovery, but Reese was not stable enough to be transported to their home in Ohio for rehabilitation.
At the doctors’ recommendation, the Acuffs decided to send Reese to Mary Free Bed Rehabilitation Hospital for his inpatient therapy. It was a huge sacrifice for their family.
Already exhausted emotionally, physically and spiritually from their 20 days in the pediatric ICU, Donnie and Jill prepared to temporarily relocate from Springfield, Ohio, to Grand Rapids. A friend’s church provided them with housing, and snowmobiling friends pitched in to make their temporary situation work. It was hardest on Reese’s sister, Riley, who has Down syndrome. She missed Reese and didn’t understand the separation. So, Jill and Donnie worked hard to care for both children and their special needs even though they were far from home.
When Reese arrived at Mary Free Bed he was still sedated, and Donnie and Jill were worn out.
Jill remembers, “The atmosphere at Mary Free Bed was different from the frantic pace of the hospital. Mary Free Bed felt like home. Everyone from the janitor to the security guy was helpful and kind.”
The injury to the right side of Reese’s brain resulted in the loss of mobility on his left side. He couldn’t eat, drink, walk or go to the bathroom. Even though the situation was grim, Jill was confident. Dr. Adam Rush had met with them in the hospital to start planning for Reese’s rehabilitation. Reese spent his first day at Mary Free Bed sleeping, but by the second day he started a schedule of physical, occupational, and recreational therapy twice a day. The intense therapy was great for Reese.
“Reese is driven,” Jill said. “He knew all the rules and knew what he had to do for each therapy. He does everything fast and furious.”
The therapy included a lot of directed play. Reese finally stood on his own so he could play air hockey, and he used his left hand to direct the puck. As Reese’s condition improved, Riley was able to visit on weekends to play.
Reese’s initial prognosis was for 6 months of inpatient therapy, but after one month he was walking, talking, eating, sitting up by himself, and standing.
“Reese loved his therapists,” Donnie explained. “He knew their names and the days and times of their sessions.”
As a mom with a special needs child, Jill is used to advocating for her children.
“At Mary Free Bed, there wasn’t anyone to avoid,” Jill explained. “All the caregivers were knowledgeable and confident. It was a relief to see them care so well for Reese.”
By the end of March, Reese was on his way home to Ohio for outpatient therapy. Even a state away, Mary Free Bed continues to help Jill and Donnie navigate Reese’s outpatient therapy needs.
“If this had happened anywhere else, I don’t think Reese would have made it,” Donnie said. “He definitely wouldn’t be riding his bike without the care he received at Mary Free Bed. The people at Mary Free Bed want to be there and that makes such a difference.”
“Thankful isn’t an adequate word to describe how grateful we are,” Jill said, “We used to pass Mary Free Bed all the time and we had no idea that it was so great.”