Reaching Out to Help Others
On August 17, 2002, 16 year old Anthony Savalier headed off on a bright Saturday morning to begin training for a job he had recently accepted. Driving alone down a country road from his home in Belvidere, Illinois, Anthony came to a “T” in the road and was hit by another car. The impact was severe.
He was flown to a hospital in Rockford where it was determined he had broken all of the bones in his arms and legs, chipped his pelvis and most serious of all, had sustained a frontal lobe brain injury. Anthony was placed in a drug-induced coma for two weeks in hopes of helping his brain to heal.
On September 4, a full four weeks after the accident and coincidentally, his mother’s birthday, he awoke.
“The physicians told me to immediately begin looking into rehabilitation hospitals,” notes Donna, his mother. “They explained that with younger patients, it’s critical to get them into rehab as quickly as possible. I knew about Marianjoy’s reputation so I began the process of getting Anthony transferred there.”
When Anthony arrived at Marianjoy he was unable to use his arms or legs and couldn’t communicate verbally, yet therapy started immediately. A major accomplishment occurred within the first few weeks when he was able to move the small finger on one hand. It meant progress.
He regained his speech quickly but was still having some cognitive issues when it came to finding the correct words to use in conversation. He was also having short-term memory issues. Though his grandmother would visit with him all morning and he would recognize her, by the afternoon, he couldn’t remember her name and had forgotten who she was entirely. To help with his recognition and memory skills, Donna assembled a poster board filled with family photos to review with him on a daily basis.
“It was upsetting to people who would spend a lot of time with,” notes Donna. “They just couldn’t understand how he could know who they were one minute, and then later, not recognize them at all. It was frustrating for them but imagine what it was like for Anthony. It’s all part of the injury.”
After six months of intensive inpatient therapy, Anthony was ready to be discharged home. He began outpatient therapy at Marianjoy and would continue to work on his speech and language abilities as well as his cognitive issues.
Today, at the age of 25, Anthony is just like most young men his age. With the help of his teachers, coaches, and a tutor, he graduated from high school. He secured his drivers license and today works two jobs—ironically, one of which is at Marianjoy in the Environmental Services Department which he was able to secure through AbilityLinks, a program founded by Marianjoy that matches individuals with disabilities with employers.
Some things though may never change for Anthony, including his challenges with his short and long-term memory issues.
“I remember very little of my childhood,” he explained recently. “I also remember nothing of the accident and my time in rehab is really sketchy. I am physically stronger now but I know that I will always struggle with both long- and short-term memory issues. My therapists did give me techniques to help with my memory, like writing everything down that I need to get done during the day and checking things off the list as I complete them.”
“Throughout the entire rehabilitation experience, we were here with him 24 hours a day,” confirms Donna. “What Marianjoy did for Anthony was a miracle. And one of the most important components to the process for me was the Teen Connections Support Group, which is specifically designed for teenagers and young adults with brain injuries. It gave Anthony the opportunity to interact with other brain injury survivors and gave me and his sister, Cassie, an outlet as well. There were even times Anthony’s friends would attend which helped give them an understanding of what he was going through. I met many parents through the group and it gave us a place to bond with families who were dealing with many of the same issues our family was. We were able to support and learn from each other.”
Anthony and Donna have also reached out to help other individuals and families heal.
“Anthony’s guidance counselor at school called one day and wondered if we would consider meeting with a young man in the area who had experienced a brain injury from a car accident,” Donna explains. “We agreed and found that it was not only helpful for the young man and his family, but it was helpful for Anthony and me as well. It wasn’t long after we met them that a friend of this same family was involved in a motorcycle accident and he too, suffered a brain injury and went to Marianjoy. You just don’t realize the number of individuals who are impacted by a brain injury everyday!”
Donna is thrilled with the care that Marianjoy gave to her son. “When he arrived, he couldn’t do anything for himself. Marianjoy saved his life,” she confirms. “The care here was unbelievable and I would recommend it to anyone. When he arrived he couldn't walk or talk or use any of his limbs. Marianjoy’s staff worked day and night to make him whole again. Most of all the staff gave my family the gift of faith. We trusted and believed in them as they brought my son back from a horrible tragedy.
“I am so thankful to still have Anthony. He may argue with his sister and fight with me about curfew and about being more independent, but yet he remembers to say ‘I love you’ before he hangs up the phone. I realize I have Marianjoy to thank for that. Without your help I would have missed out on all of this with my son. The therapy, counseling and spiritual care they provided allowed us to heal. I could never thank Marianjoy enough for what they have done. Marianjoy didn't just give Anthony back his life, Marianjoy gave Anthony back to us.”