Paul O’Brien, a former Lowell Sun employee and court officer at Lowell district court, sits in his sun drenched living room, and cannot believe he is still alive.
Eight months ago, as Paul was crossing a busy street near his home, he was struck by car and left on the side of the road. While he has few memories of the accident, his wife, Sheila, who hasn’t left his side since, has helped fill in the gaps. Paul was med flighted to an area hospital where he was treated for a traumatic brain injury, several broken bones and a multitude of wounds. While Paul spent more than a month in the hospital, his first memory is waking up in a rehabilitation hospital two months after the accident that nearly took his life.
The doctors and therapists who worked tirelessly to help rehabilitate Paul, tried to be realistic about his recovery. They suggested that while he might get some use of his legs back, the reality was that he might always need the assistance of a walker or cane. Discouraged, but not defeated, Paul worked at his rehab and was eventually transferred to a skilled nursing facility to continue his recovery. Adding to his challenges were wounds from his accident that were not healing, specifically ones on his feet and hip, which prevented him from putting any kind of weight on his right foot.
With little progress being made, Paul was eventually discharged from the skilled nursing facility to complete his recovery at home. In preparation for bringing Paul home, Sheila looked at their three-story townhome and knew it wouldn’t work for someone, who at the time, was still wheelchair bound. She put a call out to her Dracut community, and they answered. In awe-inspiring ways.
Spearheaded by their State Representative, Colleen Garry, funds were raised to modify the O’Brien’s home. Individual donations and grants from local organizations helped to cover the cost of installing a chair lift so that Paul could safely access the main living area of his townhome. Additional support enabled the O’Brien’s to modify the layout of their kitchen and bathroom to be wheelchair accessible. While the support from their community was immeasurable, Sheila quickly became overwhelmed with being the sole caregiver to her husband. After a week, she reached out to Paul’s primary care physician for help. He, in turn, called All Care. Within 24 hours All Care nurse, Amber, was knocking on the O’Brien’s door.
Amber assessed Paul’s situation, provided extensive wound care to his right heel and hip and explained what to expect over the next couple of weeks. He would begin physical and occupational therapy immediately, with the goal of getting Paul to be as independent as possible with his care. Sheila felt like a weight had been lifted off her shoulders and Paul, while discouraged with his progress to date, felt hopeful.
The following day All Care’s physical therapist Lori put Paul through a series of exercises that left him exhausted. Not long after, Samantha, All Care’s occupational therapist came knocking. Between Lori and Sam, they soon had Paul up and moving around the main living area of his home. After a few weeks, Sheila came downstairs one morning, prepared to help Paul get ready for the day and couldn’t believe it when he said it was already done! Utilizing the tools and techniques drilled into him by his All Care clinicians, Paul was able to get out of bed, brush his teeth, shave and use the bathroom. This may seem like a small accomplishment, but for someone who was normally incredibly independent, needing to rely on someone else for the smallest of things left Paul feeling helpless. These small victories gave him the strength and confidence to keep pushing through.
While the road hasn’t been easy, it was made a little more difficult with the added financial pressure of Paul’s recovery. The driver of the car who left the scene of the accident was eventually found and it was determined that her vehicle was not insured. Just the med flight alone used up the lifetime allowance on Paul’s auto insurance. His health insurance was adequate to cover his care, but not widely accepted by many providers. As it is, they are already tapping into their retirement savings to cover their costs as Paul recovers.
The O’Briens, however, are nothing if not resilient. They have gotten through many difficult moments, relying on each other and their incredible sense of humor. Paul jokingly says to Lori at the end of their visits, “the beatings will continue until the morale improves.” For which Sheila quickly quips right back “watch it buddy, you listen to everything she says so you can get better and get back to work. I can’t have you hanging around the house all day forever.”
Getting back to work is Paul’s goal. Once a seemingly impossible prospect is now not so crazy to believe. “His progress is incredible,” says Lori. “Once we got his wounds under control, he’s been off and running. Well, not really running, but someday!”
“Without All Care I don’t know where we would be,” Sheila quietly says as Paul works with Lori in the living room. “He wasn’t making any progress. I was doing my best, but I’m not a nurse, I didn’t know how to help him.” Just then Paul comes bounding around the corner, closely followed by Lori. “What are you two chitchatting about in here? Leaving us to do all the hard stuff!”
Paul continues to make incredible strides in his recovery every day. He has made so much progress that he was recently discharged from All Care so that he can continue he physical therapy on an outpatient basis. “I’m not sure where I would be without All Care’s help. I really don’t,” said Paul. “Things weren’t looking so good for a while, and well, you all are really great. Thank you for being there to help.”