Michael's Story

Finding his way back to work, family and a Florida vacation

Michael Barath was at work one day when the symptoms started. Suddenly the right half of his body stopped working. The 69-year-old architect struggled to speak. Colleagues called an ambulance that rushed him to the hospital. Scans revealed Michael had several bleeding spots on his brain. He was placed on a breathing tube and given airway support.

After several failed attempts to liberate from the ventilator, an ear, nose and throat specialist determined Michael had laryngomalacia, a softening of the voice box tissues. The condition would significantly impact his ability to wean from the ventilator and speak.  Michael needed more time to heal, so his wife, Renee and brother, Greg, chose Select Specialty Hospital – Pontiac for its experience in treating medically complex patients.

Michael arrived in early December, in a good spirits but unable to speak, eat or breathe on his own. His family’s primary goals were getting him to breathe and eat again, and make progress toward speaking.  A physician-led team of therapists, nurses and pharmacists created a plan to help Michael attain them. Respiratory therapists, in conjunction with Michael’s pulmonologist, began gradually reducing the amount of work the ventilator did, allowing his lungs to take over. As he grew stronger, the speech-language pathologists (SLP) added a special valve to his breathing tube that provided more oxygen and would allow Michael to speak. The SLP then worked with Michael on following commands, making sounds and exercises that strengthened his mouth, tongue and jaw.

Physical therapists led Michael through our mobility program. He sat up in bed, then at its edge, regaining strength in his core muscles. Occupational and physical therapy worked together on reeducating his body to move as one.

Through each milestone, Renee and Greg were there, cheering him on.  They practiced sitting unassisted and moving from the bed to a chair. Studies* show, small movements help prepare patients to wean off the ventilator.

As Michael’s strength returned he was removed from the ventilator. Days later, his airway support also discontinued and he was breathing independently.  The SLP stepped in again to help Michael form words, using pictures and mouth exercises to help him clearly speak singular words.

One month after arriving, Michael had reached nearly all his goals. He left for a rehabilitation hospital, where he would spend up to three hours a day continuing his physical and occupational rehabilitation.

He’s looking forward to getting back to work and maybe enjoying a Florida vacation with his family to fully recuperate from his long ordeal.

*Unroe, Ann Int Med, 2010, 153, 167