Healing a heart following serious complications
Kevin Gilkes was pulled awake by searing chest pain. He was having a heart attack and quickly stopped breathing. His wife, Ann, provided life-saving CPR until the ambulance arrived.
Rushed to the local hospital, Kevin, 61, underwent an emergency cardiac catheterization, which revealed several blockages. Surgeons placed three stents to reopen blood flow. Kevin was put on a breathing machine, airway support and a feeding tube. Further testing revealed Kevin had sustained a brain injury due to a lack of oxygen.
After nearly a month, Kevin’s condition stabilized and he was transferred to Select Specialty Hospital – Flint. He’d liberated from the ventilator, but still required a high-flow oxygen mask, feeding tube and therapy to address his physical and cognitive needs.
His first few days were somewhat confusing, Kevin recalled. "I was just trying to figure out what was going on."
Kevin had severe vision loss and needed two staff members to help him move. It was a challenging time for a man who was previously very active. When he wasn’t on the job at General Motors, running complex production machinery, he was out on his fishing boat or hunting ducks. He had a beautiful baby granddaughter he couldn’t wait to see again.
Kevin said he had to lean hard on his faith and trust in his therapy team’s ability to help.
He worked with respiratory therapy on breathing, coughing and chest exercises that built stamina. Within a week, Kevin had his airway support removed and was breathing independently. Speech therapists stepped in to conduct a swallow study, determining he could begin eating safely by mouth and his feeding tube was removed.
Physical and occupational therapists worked with him several times each week and nurses ensured he followed his mobility program daily. This was the toughest part of recovery, because his brain sent messages to his body in abnormal patterns, making it difficult to move safely.
As his brain healed, his sight improved significantly and his ability to connect his commands to his body improved. Kevin's main goal was "to be able to hug my wife" and he worked hard to increase his arm strength, along with his balance and coordination.
The turning point came five weeks later. As Ann, their children and their families watched, Kevin took six steps with the help of two therapists – his first since the heart attack.
As Kevin was undergoing treatment, the COVID-19 pandemic caused the hospital to restrict in-person visitation for the safety of patients and staff. His Select Specialty team coordinated regular video chats between Kevin, Ann and their family. The couple’s church launched multiple prayer chains. His team also ensured Kevin understood why his family couldn’t visit personally, and provided emotional support when he needed it.
Kevin said he learned that he is "stronger than I thought" and “how resilient I am, with God's healing hands.”
Kevin was ready for the next phase of his recovery. He’d reached many milestones, including sitting in bed without assistance and standing with minimal help. He will continue to build his skills and independence at an inpatient rehabilitation hospital where he’ll participate in three hours of physical and occupational therapy each day.
Most of all, Kevin is looking forward to going home, playing with his granddaughter and getting back outdoors with his fishing boat and best canine buddy, Ollie.