Ty beats the odds with medical rehab at LifeScape
At age 16, Ty wasn’t finished living, even though he was given zero chance to live when he was admitted to the hospital in July 2020. The head trauma he had suffered was not something that people survive, and yet he did. This was the first, but not the last time he would beat the odds.
After about six weeks, he was transferred from the hospital in Rapid City to Children’s Specialty Hospital at LifeScape in Sioux Falls, South Dakota’s only pediatric rehabilitation hospital. Ty started rehab with physical, occupational, and speech therapy right way, even though he wasn’t fully “awake” from his coma. “He was very agitated, couldn’t hold his head up, and wasn’t fully conscious,” says LifeScape Speech-Language Pathologist Heather Hewitt. But that’s what rehab therapists do—work with what the patient has at the moment.
Ty had a tracheostomy to breathe and a feeding tube for nutrition and hydration. Further down the road, Heather and the other speech therapists would work on swallowing, but for now, they would collaborate with OT and PT to get his brain and body working again. Heather hoped that some type of communication could be established with Ty. She was thrilled when he first demonstrated spoken language comprehension through “thumbs up” and “thumbs down.” Since then, Ty has continued to amaze everyone with his progress in all areas. He no longer has his breathing tube and consumes regular food and liquids. He can transfer from his bed to his manual wheelchair, which he propels himself. He walks with assistance in physical therapy and is working to improve that skill. Ty is always ready with a smile and has a great personality. He loves joking around with the staff.
“I’ve been surprised and super happy with how far he’s come,” says his guardian Chelsy Ocker of Rapid City. “To be where he is now, you would never have thought that would be possible.”
Another goal in speech rehab is language expression, and Ty now has basic language and a few key phrases he uses, like “How are you?” and “What are you doing?” “We want him to be able to indicate what he wants and doesn’t want in any setting,” says Heather. Other general rehab goals in speech-language pathology are memory and attention. Playing games like UNO or his favorite, Connect 4, are good for improving both.
In February, Ty transitioned to the Children’s Residential Program, licensed as an ICF-ID, an Intermediate Care Facility for Individuals with Intellectual Disabilities. He also began attending LifeScape’s Specialty School half days. His volunteer surrogate parent for educational programming is Courtney Ehlers of Sioux Falls. She was recruited by a friend to act as an advocate for a student in special education and was paired with Ty. She helps set goals and advocates for accommodations and adaptive processes as part of Ty’s IEP (Individual Education Plan). With a background as a pediatric critical care nurse, Courtney says she had also been pleased to see the progress Ty has made. “To see the advances he’s made with that type of injury is really wonderful,” she says. “He has absolutely blossomed.”
Ty loves school and asked to attend classes full days, which he started in April. He continues to have surgeries to address his brain injury and gets both medical and school-based therapies, which helps him make progress toward better function and more independence. Now 17, vocational exploration is part of Ty’s education curriculum, as LifeScape helps him prepare for his future.
“He’s come a long way, and I believe the services and staff at LifeScape will continue to help him progress,” says Chelsy. His school surrogate, Courtney, agrees. “That’s the power of rehab,” she says. “Ty is living, breathing proof of that.”