Meet Our Patients

Remarkable Recovery After a Stroke - Mark French - 2015

 

Mark FrenchMark French gives everything he has to all he does, a quality that caused him to have success during his decades-long career in business—and during his recovery from the devastating stroke he suffered in July 2015.

“Recovery from stroke is the hardest thing I’ve ever done,” French said. “But with the help of the fabulous doctors and therapists at MedStar NRH, I could see that I was moving forward every day. I’m so grateful to them all.” According to French’s physician, Alexander Dromerick, MD, MedStar NRH Research vice president, “he has overcome tremendous odds to write a happy ending to his own incredible story.”

On April 20, 2016, French’s tenacity and indomitable spirit were rewarded when he was a recipient of a 2016 Victory Award® at the 30th Anniversary Gala of MedStar NRH. During the past three decades, MedStar NRH has celebrated the “Victory of the Human Spirit” by recognizing individuals who have met and overcome serious challenges.

“I’m honored to receive this award,” French told the crowd of nearly 700. “After my stroke and before I came to MedStar NRH, my life was a very different—and frightening—place,” he said. “But at MedStar NRH, I became excited because everyone there said I would recover, and I did. The process of rehabilitation is like climbing a mountain, and I’m very determined to reach the summit.”  

 


Hope Following Brain Injury - Delaney Saslav - 2012

 

Delaney SaslavIn May 2012, the Saslav family was enjoying a day by the pool with their friends, the De Luigi family. “We called for everyone to get out of the pool for awhile,” Jill Saslav explains, but three-year-old Delaney Saslav sneaked back to the pool and fell in.

The De Luigi’s daughter, five-year-old Cyan, saw the accident and ran for help. Beata De Luigi jumped in and pulled Delaney out of the water, and her husband, Jason De Luigi, DO, a sports medicine physician with MedStar NRH, administered CPR. “The doctors in the ER said that Delaney was alive because someone had performed the right kind of resuscitation,” Jill says.  “There is no question in my mind that the De Luigi family saved her life.”

After weeks in intensive care, Delaney was ready for rehabilitation. “We knew nothing about rehab and what to do next,” Jill adds. “But [Dr. De Luigi] took care of it for us, and I’m so grateful that we came to MedStar NRH. For weeks while Delaney was in the ICU, I felt so separated from my child. I had to leave her well-being to other people. But when I came here, I felt like a mom again. I got to hold Delaney for the first time. The MedStar NRH team includes my husband and me in everything and encourages us to be a part of the process. It’s like family.”

When Delaney arrived at the National Center for Children’s Rehabilitation (NCCR) at MedStar NRH she wasn’t able to sit up or speak. Her arms were in spasm and bent across her chest.  A month later, she was sitting up, learning to stand and beginning to talk. “The first thing she said was ‘mom’ and it was a wonderful moment,” says Jill. She adds, “Everything at the hospital focuses on helping the family work together to get your child well and back home. There is such great support from the therapists, doctors and nurses—and the other families with kids in the hospital. Even the hospital president John Rockwood stops by to see how we are doing.”

Jill and Andrew Saslav know that recovery is a long-term process, but they are encouraged by Delaney’s progress. For Dr. De Luigi, who faithfully stops by most mornings to give Delaney a hug, her recovery is a wonderful sight to see. “It’s so amazing to see how far she has come since that tragic day—to see the transformation of a child on a ventilator to the delightful, little girl playing with the therapists.”

 


A Life Rebounds after Brain Injury - Christine de Mariz - 2010

 

Christine de MarizOn May 21, 2010, Christine de Mariz, PhD, wife, mother of two small boys and rising star at an international development organization, suffered a severe brain injury while doing what had occupied her professional life for the last two years—helping to build a stronger Haitian economy. In a flash, one car collided with another, tumbling over and over on the wet road. Now de Mariz, comatose and suffering severe head trauma, faced some very tough rebuilding of her own. Within days of the accident, de Mariz was flown to a hospital, where her husband Pierre-Henri Leon waited anxiously to learn more about her condition.  “Eventually they told me the prognosis was grim,” Leon says.  “But they didn’t know Christine.” 

By the end of June, her medical condition had stabilized and she was ready to leave the hospital and start rehabilitation at the National Rehabilitation Hospital (NRH). “That’s where her recovery really jettisoned,” said her very grateful husband. “Christine had suffered a traumatic brain injury as a result of a significant impact that caused prolonged unconsciousness,” explained Kritis Dasgupta, MD, de Mariz’s physician at the NRH Brain Injury Program. “I felt she had a good chance for recovery.”

Months later, de Mariz said, “I was there to work hard.  I knew that I had to put in the eight hours a day to get better.  I still do.  But I’m very motivated. I need to be there for my boys, to see them grow up. That’s my incentive.” By early September, she was ready to go home.  But her recovery isn’t nearly over.  Less than a week after she was released from the hospital, de Mariz returned to therapy at the NRH Transitions Day Treatment Program headed by Dasgupta.  “My first goal is to take a walk in my neighborhood. Then I want to be back at work by spring.” 

 


New Appreciation of Life - Charles Chiang - 2008

 

Charles ChiangCharles and Christiana Chiang together built a thriving company that today encompasses 16 restaurants, food products and work-based kiosks and commissaries. On an ordinary busy day in February 2008, the phone rang in the Chiang's McLean, Virginia, home. “They told me that Charles had been in an accident and was on his way to Fairfax Hospital.  His car had been destroyed, but I didn’t know anything more.” Charles would not require an operation, but was admitted to the intensive care unit.  He had suffered a serious brain injury, and the left side of his body was paralyzed, said Christina, an NRH Board of Associates member for more than 15 years.

After six days acute care, it was clear Charles needed what only NRH could provide. During three months of intensive therapy, Charles began to gain strength in his left side.  Soon he was making slow steps and then walking with a cane.  And his friends, NRH Team Members and the community he loves rallied to show support.  “I think he set a record,” Christiana says.  “He had nearly 600 visitors over the months he was at NRH!  The room was always filled with flowers – they came non-stop.”

Dr. Michael Yochelson, Medical Director of the NRH Brain Injury Program, was unbelievably wonderful and the therapists and social workers – all terrific,” adds Christiana. Just months after the accident, Charles has returned to work part-time and continues outpatient therapy and acupuncture treatments, as well. 

 

 


A True Survivor and Inspiration - Cheryl Douglass - 2008

 

Cheryl DouglassLife changed drastically for Cheryl Douglass in February of 2008. Cheryl contracted a bacterial infection of the blood called Group A Streptococcal Toxic Shock Syndrome. This rare and often fatal condition led to toxic shock, stopping blood flow to her extremities and requiring the amputation of her arms and legs to save her life.

Cheryl was in a drug-induced state in the ICU at Georgetown University Hospital for six weeks and then transferred to NRH in April 2008 to begin the next step in her journey to recovery. Initially, Cheryl had extremely limited movement and was unable to even lift her arms or legs off the bed. After a lot of dedication and practice with her prosthetic limbs, Cheryl was able to walk out of NRH on June 10, 2008.

Today, Cheryl is doing remarkably well and can perform the tasks of everyday life that most people take for granted. Cheryl continues to work on her rehabilitation and goes to outpatient physical therapy when she is at home in Chevy Chase. She is also working on a cookbook for upper extremity amputees. Cheryl picks a recipe and does the cooking while a friend gives techniques and tips to make the process easier and faster. Along with her cooking project, Cheryl is paying it forward to other amputees. She is a certified mentor and visits soldiers and patients in hospitals. “Having four {prosthetic limbs}, if I walk in to see somebody with only one amputation they may feel more optimistic,” said Douglass.

Cheryl’s primary message about her experience is simple: “It’s not the end of the world, you are temporarily disabled but you will get back to a normal life. Don’t feel badly about using your family and friends, they help enormously. Also, you can’t be shy about going outdoors or else you will end up staying indoors all of the time. Get out there and don’t worry about what people think of you.”

Cheryl Douglass walked out of NRH following a bacterial infection that required the amputation of her arms and legs.

 


An American Hero - Sgt. Ryan Major - 2007

 

Ryan MajorWhen it came time for Ryan Major to begin his tour in Iraq, he was proud to serve to defend the U.S. He wanted nothing more than to be a great soldier and leader. At 12:15 p.m. on Friday, November 10, 2006 Ryan’s mother, Lorrie Knight-Major checked her cell phone messages. “This is Sgt 1st Class Williamson with the United States Army,” a voice said. “I am calling in regard to your son, Ryan Major.  Please call me.”  Before his second sentence was completed, the tears were flowing down her face. 

Ryan’s unit was on foot patrol in Ramadi, Iraq, when an improvised explosive device was detonated within two feet of where Ryan stood. There were many casualties in his unit, but Ryan’s injuries were by far the worst: his right leg had already been amputated; he had severe injuries to his right pelvis, and burns to his left leg and arms; both of his arms were fractured; and there were other internal injuries and a probable traumatic brain injury (TBI), which could not be assessed until he came out of the coma.

Within 24 hours of arrival in Landsthul, Germany, doctors had stabilized Ryan for transport to Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington. D.C.  He was being treated for multiple infections and nobody knew if Ryan would survive.  Once Ryan woke up from his coma, he was so weak he wasn’t even able to lift his head off of the pillow.  He couldn’t move any of his fingers.  He could only blink his eyes and turn his head slightly to the left and right.

Major was then admitted to NRH on January 31, 2007 for extensive physical, occupational and speech therapy. He returned to his home on August 17, 2007. Ryan’s primary reason for transferring to NRH was for rehabilitation and their experience with TBI patients.  Therapy began even before Ryan could leave his bed. 

Ryan continuously challenges himself.  In the year following his accident, he completed three races using a hand crank bike: the Hope and Possibility 5K Run, the Army 10 Miler, and the New York Marathon. Ryan planned to attend college and major in business administration.  Ryan andtwo grade school friends started a business, Major Scanning Business Solutions, which provides corporate document management.  Ryan Major carries himself as he always has—as a proud U.S. soldier and a true American hero. 

 


Second Chance at Life - Sen. Timothy Johnson - 2006

 

Timothy JohnsonAs a veteran senator from his beloved state of South Dakota, Tim Johnson can talk for hours about the state and people that he loves without once referring to “I” or “me.” On December 13, 2006, Sen. Johnson’s life changed irrevocably when a tangle of veins in his brain ruptured.  Although he hadn’t known it, an Arterio-Venous Malformation, or AVM—a congenital condition that causes enlarged, tangled and weakened blood vessels had laid deep in his brain since birth. 

As the nation watched and waited for word of his condition, Sen. Johnson underwent emergency surgery.  And when a series of complications put his life at risk, a coma was induced.  By February 2007, the Senator had improved so significantly that he was admitted to NRH. He met challenges with flexibility and a sense of humor. Although he had to learn to walk and talk all over again—he was determined to succeed.  Months of hard work followed, and by August his NRH doctors gave him the thumbs-up to head back home to South Dakota.  

On September 5, 2007, he returned to the Senate to a rousing welcome from his colleagues. He is dearly loved by the people of South Dakota as well as his family and friends. A lucky man, indeed, Sen. Johnson has returned to work for the people he loves and his life’s work with a renewed sense of purpose; he has landed in a place that is at once familiar and yet new and exciting, approached from an entirely fresh perspective.  

Sen. Johnson’s very public journey through rehabilitation to recovery has been a source of inspiration to thousands of people.  On November 4,2007 he was unanimously re-elected to the Senate—scoring a victory not just for himself and his family, but for everyone facing the same struggle. 

 


Defying the Odds - LaShonne Williams-Fraley - 1990

 

lashonne-williams-fraley-2-200x200On July 3, 1990, 22-year-old LaShonne Williams-Fraley and her boyfriend sat quietly on the living room sofa, watching their favorite late night talk show. Williams-Fraley was taking a summer off before going back to school to take computer classes.

But then they heard the pop, pop, pop of gunfire.  “Get on the floor,” her boyfriend commanded, and as she slid from the sofa to the carpet, a bullet pierced her neck, traveled through her lungs and exited her body underneath her left arm. “I knew I’d been hit. My body was on fire,” Williams-Fraley says. She remembers being carried on a gurney, the hushed voices on the street, the flight to the trauma center, the tubes, the halo of steel around her head—and the sounds of a hospital bed rotating rhythmically to ward away bed sores. “I knew I shouldn’t or couldn’t move and that maybe I wouldn’t ever walk again,” she says. “But I also knew somehow I would be ok, no matter what.”

In the years since, Williams-Fraley has never looked back. “You have to adapt to your new body, your new life. When I left the hospital and came to NRH, I was afraid. But the therapists began to teach me how to push my wheelchair, and once I got mobile, I didn’t stop moving.” She found respite sitting in the hospital’s Victory Garden, or simply watching TV, “doing normal everyday things with other people in wheelchairs. It taught me that I was alive—only one part of me didn’t work anymore. It wasn’t what I had planned for my life, but I was still me.”

After three months at MedStar NRH, Williams-Fraley’s family brought her to their new home. “The hospital staff taught me the skills I needed to function, but then I had to make it work myself,” she says. When she was ready, she enrolled in an office automation training class sponsored by NRH. After an internship in the hospital’s public relations office, she became a full-time team member in 1996. Today, Williams-Fraley is the communications coordinator in Marketing and Strategic Development.

She has a teenage son, Kennard, who she drives to after-school events, while running errands in her specially equipped “mommy van” like any other single parent of an active boy. “The night I was shot, the doctors told my mother I probably wouldn’t make it.  But here I am, two decades later, defying the odds.”