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Gravely injured in auto accident, patient depends on husband to choose rehabilitation facility

It was the click she didn’t hear that turned Tammy Helton’s life upside down.

Last July 9, Tammy hopped into her Jeep to head to the home in Twin Lakes that she shared with her husband, Mike, and the youngest of their 3 children. The music was cranked, and Tammy doesn’t remember hearing the click of the seat belt, which was often finicky when it came to latching.

She does remember driving a little too fast when rounding a corner less than a mile from home.

Tammy swerved to miss the deer that had materialized in the roadway, over-corrected, lost control and flipped her Jeep.

Tammy doesn’t remember much about the accident. She’s been told EMTs arrived to find that she had been thrown clear of her vehicle, breaking 3 vertebrae in her neck. She suffered a traumatic brain injury and was partially paralyzed.

After 9 days in intensive care at Hackley Hospital in Muskegon, Mike Helton had his wife transferred to Mary Free Bed Rehabilitation Hospital – where she began the long journey to recovery.

“My husband did all of the research needed to get me into Mary Free Bed,” Tammy recalls. “He couldn’t consult with me at the time, because I was in a coma. Mike had had a couple of friends who mentioned the hospital, so he went online and checked it out.

“Mary Free Bed is ranked one of the top in the state, and it’s under an hour from where we live. That was pretty wonderful. It has turned out to be a good choice.”

Choice is key – as are programs and staff – when it comes to deciding on a rehabilitation facility. Patients, such as Tammy, are too traumatized by their accidents or illness to participate in the selection process. Their families are equally distressed and often don’t ask the right questions needed to select the best facility.

Mike Helton did his homework, though. He knew Mary Free Bed is the only dedicated rehabilitation hospital in West Michigan – and one of only two in the state. His research showed him each new inpatient works with a team of specialists led by a physiatrist – a doctor who specializes in physical medicine and rehabilitation – as well as a physical therapist, occupational therapist, speech therapist, recreational therapist and social worker to design a customized recovery program.

Inpatients receive 3 hours of individualized therapy each day, while many programs offer only two hours. Finally, Mike appreciated that Mary Free Bed has specialties in brain and spinal cord injuries that would allow his wife to get the rehabilitation she needed, and then support her when was ready to return home.

When Tammy arrived at Mary Free Bed, she said the staff wondered if she could recover. She was unable to feed herself, drink out of a glass, brush her teeth, control her hands and feet, write or walk. By the time she was well enough to head home for Christmas, she was talking on a cell phone, dressing herself and putting in her own earrings.

“Mary Free Bed has been a very good choice,” she says. “It’s been a long process to get where we are right now, and I have a long way to go. My husband and I are both hoping that I can walk by next Christmas.

“Everyone who worked with me at Mary Free Bed has been really wonderful. The therapists are just so terrific. When they take one of us on, they want us to succeed. I would highly recommend Mary Free Bed to anyone who is fortunate enough to come here. It’s a really wonderful place.”

One Comment

Tiffany (Helton) Marshall

I am Tammy and Mike’s daughter. That split second forever changed our lives, especially that of my parents. One moment my mother is chasing after her grandchildren, the next we have no idea what is next. When my mother went to Mary Free Bed, everyone was nice and reassuring that she would be well taken care of, and she was. I have seen such great improvements in my mother and we have so much hope that she will definitely walk again. It has been a rough time but every time I went to see her, I left feeling that she was well taken care of and also cared about. Now she is home and able to apply her own makeup among many other things. That is all thanks to Mary Free Bed. Thank you to every single person there who has helped take care of my mother. You were able to lift her spirits and give her hope during her darkest days. Someday her and I will both WALK back in there to thank you once again.


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