DJ's Story

medically complex - patient success story - DJ Hepburn

Turning Therapy into a Game

Just before the holidays, 33-year-old DJ Hepburn, and his mother, Rebecca, came down with the flu.

It didn’t seem so bad for DJ. He showered, dressed and sat down to watch TV. Suddenly, he couldn’t breathe.

Rebecca called 911. Medics inserted a breathing tube and he was rushed to the emergency room.

For five weeks, DJ’s life hung in the balance. Rebecca never left his side. He remained sedated and on a ventilator. At one point, his heart and lungs began failing. For 21 days, he was placed on a special machine that provided oxygen directly to his blood stream.

A worrisome complication set in, DJ could not stop bleeding. He required a combined 24 liters of blood and platelet transfusions – an astonishing amount considering the average human body holds anywhere from 4.7 to 5.5 liters of blood alone.

By February, DJ stabilized enough for Rebecca to consider the next step in care. DJ’s doctors recommended Select Specialty Hospital – Akron. Rebecca toured and felt it was the best place for her son.

A physician-led team of nurses and therapists created a plan to bring DJ home.

Respiratory therapists assessed DJ’s breathing ability and began gradually dialing back his ventilator support, allowing his lungs to do more work.

Learning to breathe independently would be DJ’s biggest challenge.

It took nearly a month for his lungs to become strong enough to breathe on their own. Every day, his therapists led him through exercises designed to build stamina.

Physical and occupational therapists began a mobility program, helping DJ sit up and roll in bed. Studies show that early mobility, even for patients on ventilators, improves liberating.

Physical therapy wasn’t always DJ’s favorite activity, but one therapist connected with him. He could get DJ to try sitting at the bed’s edge, or getting into a chair when others couldn’t.

Rebecca stayed close, at her son’s side almost daily. His brothers and sisters sent cards, art supplies and, when DJ began sitting up and spending more time out of bed, playing games on his beloved Xbox.

He made progress on his breathing, disconnecting from the ventilator and tolerating a special valve that allowed him to speak.

Encouraged by success and his favorite therapist, DJ began getting into his wheelchair and heading to the therapy gym for workouts.

Rebecca said the entire care team couldn’t have been kinder to her son.

“I do not have the words to describe how great they’ve been,” she said.

Two days before DJ was slated to leave, his breathing support was fully removed – a huge accomplishment he celebrated with hugs and high fives.

As DJ prepared for the next step in his journey, the coronavirus pandemic began to take shape in the United States. The medical team and Rebecca decided bringing DJ home, with therapeutic and nursing services, would be safest. He was overjoyed get back in his own bed and snuggle with his beloved dog, Miss Clive.