Gary's Story

Returning an independent man to the land he loves

A few weeks before Christmas, Gary Hoeppner was driving near his northern Iowa farm when he was suddenly involved in a car crash. The 64-year-old came to in the wreck, and was able to free himself. Emergency crews insisted on transporting him to a nearby hospital.

There, trauma surgeons discovered multiple injuries including rib fractures, a broken sternum and free air in his chest. Shortly after arriving, Gary suffered acute respiratory failure and was immediately placed on airway support and a breathing tube.

He spent a month in intensive care before his wife, Kathy, could consider the next steps for Gary’s recovery. She chose Select Specialty Hospital-Des Moines.

He arrived just after the New Year, unable to breathe or eat on his own. He was weak and unable to move purposefully. It was tough for Gary, who routinely walked his acreage, slung hay bales and operated heavy machinery, to be in this state. Kathy let Gary’s care team know both of them were determined to get him back to the man he was before the accident.

A patient-centered team of physicians, therapists and nurses created a plan to help Gary achieve his goals.

Respiratory therapists began by testing whether Gary was ready to liberate from the ventilator. They slowly dialed back its settings, allowing his lungs to do more of the work.

At the same time, physical therapists began a mobility program. Small movements each day – sitting up in bed, rolling, moving to a chair – helped Gary build strength after spending 30 days in bed. Some studies suggest these movements can increase a patient’s chances of liberating from a ventilator.

After approximately two weeks, Gary was able to use a special valve inserted in his breathing tube to begin speaking. Not long after, airway support was removed and Gary was breathing independently.

Speech-language pathologists stepped in to lead him through mouth, tongue and jaw exercises. Dietitians monitored his diet to ensure foods were an appropriate consistency. As the weeks wore on, he resumed a normal diet.

Continuing to build strength, Gary began standing up with the help of physical therapists, then went for short walks in the hall.

After 35 days, Gary was ready to head to a skilled nursing facility closer to his home. Just before he left, he celebrated with therapy and nursing staff as he walked down the hallway. He’s looking forward to returning with Kathy to their farm.