Faces of LifeCare

Michael Kelly

Michael Kelly smiles as his wife of 16 years, Kathy, proudly shows off the roses he had a nurse bring in for her this morning. The bond they share is palpable in the room; it’s a connection that illness couldn’t sever.

Michael and Kathy have known each other since they were young, when they sang in youth choir together, but they had gone separate ways in early adulthood. After a choir reunion reconnected them in 1998, they decided to marry.

“I used to ride a Harley… wild… And she helps me get away from that,” Michael has said.

In July of 2015, after having dealt with other health issues, Michael was diagnosed with cancer of the larynx. Radiation and chemotherapy began almost immediately. The following morning, Kathy found her husband unresponsive in his hospital room and he was rushed to receive an emergency tracheostomy. He remained in ICU at UNC Medical Center for nearly 3 weeks. At the beginning of October, he was not acting like himself.  ICU psychosis, or delirium, is a manifestation of acute brain dysfunction in critically ill patients, occurring in intensive care unit (ICU) populations*. It is a particularly frightening effect of being in the hospital for both patient and family.

The Kelly’s were looking for a solution. They are personally acquainted with Robyn Perkerson, CEO of LifeCare Hospitals of North Carolina, and were able to get in touch with her to talk about what level of care the facility could provide.  Michael was admitted to LifeCare in October, still on several medications and experiencing delirium, unresponsive to his own name. The team of doctors began aggressive treatment and within the first week of his stay he had been taken off of Diprivan, and his team was working on finding the right medications to help him gain awareness of his surroundings again. On his birthday he had regained a lot of who he was before and had several family members visit him, bringing balloons and a recognition of his progress.

“Had we not been here, I don’t know what would have happened,” Kathy says.

Michael’s neck had previously been treated for 3rd degree burns from his radiation, but you’d never know after the progress he’s made. His trach has been capped, but most remarkable is the recovery of his personality.

“The better I got, the more they (hospital staff) tried to be the person that I needed to be… I was always friendly, to anybody. That’s one thing I had to get back.”

Michael and Kathy are both excited to be looking forward; their anniversary is coming up and their youngest daughter just got married. The road to recovery has been one with trials, but is also one filled with inspiration and love.

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