William Weimert had been feeling off, so he went for outpatient testing at a local medical center. Hours later, he was in the emergency room due to excruciating back pain. Tests revealed a ruptured spleen. Rushed into surgery, the 78-year-old had the organ removed. Several days later, William had a heart attack, stroke and went into respiratory failure.
He underwent a tracheotomy, which creates an opening in the windpipe, had a tracheostomy tube put in for airway support, and was placed on a ventilator. A feeding tube was also inserted. At one point, William went into cardiogenic shock because his heart wasn’t pumping hard enough to circulate blood.
Miraculously, William stabilized and his doctors recommended Select Specialty Hospital – Johnstown, an hour away from his home near Altoona, for further ventilator management and medical care.
On the ambulance ride down, “the paramedic told me ‘the hospital you are going to does great with ventilators,’” he said.
Arriving unable to breathe, eat, speak or move on his own, William was frustrated. He wondered if recovery was even possible. He wasn’t at SSH-Johnstown a day before realizing no one would let him go down without a fight.
“I saw how everyone was trying to help,” William said. “So I thought, ‘better get on the same page.’”
Respiratory therapists led breathing, coughing and chest exercises. “My therapist told me if I did the deep breathing, I’d be able to talk soon,” William said. “They were right. A few days later, they put the speaking valve on, and I couldn’t believe I was hearing my own voice.”
Success continued to build as William worked with physical and occupational therapists to sit up in bed, and move into a chair. Occupational therapists used exercises and self-care activities, such as brushing his teeth and hair, to enhance dexterity.
"There were days where I was just tired, but they pushed me to get out of bed,” William said. “It was thing I needed. I am so grateful. I couldn’t have done it without them."
Speech-language pathologists and dietitians worked together to retrain his swallowing reflexes and speaking ability. He also began a pureed diet.
William’s most significant milestone came when his airway support was removed.
"I was very nervous, but the respiratory therapist and doctor helped me stay calm and focused," he said.
After a month, William was ready for the next step in recovery and was transferred to an inpatient rehabilitation hospital to continue building strength and stamina.
Before becoming ill, William worked full-time at New Enterprise Stone & Lime running large machinery. He admits his wife’s been after him to retire and thinks he might just do it.
"This experience made me look at things differently,” William said. “I think I'll run machinery now for fun."
When William was unable to talk, he gave the members of his treatment team a salute to let them know he understood or was okay. Just before he left, William offered one more big salute in gratitude to those who cared for him.