For Lucas Smith, an aortic dissection began a journey of life-saving surgery and rehabilitation. He stayed in the hospital for three months, including two at the Spectrum Health inpatient rehabilitation center at Blodgett Hospital. (Chris Clark | Spectrum Health Beat)
Lucas Smith is home now. His youngest daughter Mia runs off to finally hug her father. (Chris Clark | Spectrum Health Beat)
Lucas was given a 50-50 chance of surviving the operation. He didn’t know if he would see his wife again. “I had a quick chat with Katrina about what to do if I can’t do it.” (Chris Clark | Spectrum Health Beat)
Lucas received an emotional farewell to his care team at the Spectrum Health Inpatient Rehabilitation Center at Blodgett Hospital. “They are great people,” he said. (Chris Clark | Spectrum Health Beat)
“When I woke up from the coma, I had a hard time deciding what was real and what was dreaming,” said Lucas. “There was no difference to me. I hallucinated for several days.” (Chris Clark | Spectrum Health Beat)
“From the minute I met him, he made me laugh,” said occupational therapist Jenn Burgess. “He wanted everyone to have a good experience with him.” (Chris Clark | Spectrum Health Beat)
When Lucas found out about his strokes, he wondered if he had lost much of his mental faculties. “I don’t have any marketable skills outside of my brain,” he said. “Math, chemistry and physics are what I know.” (Chris Clark | Spectrum Health Beat)
“I’ve always been strong. I’m six feet tall, weighs 280 pounds, “said Lucas.” I’m a tall guy with a boxing background – the proverbial pillar of strength for the family. ” (Chris Clark | Spectrum Health Beat)
“He has made so much progress with the work he put into therapy,” Patrick Mullan, DO, said of Lucas. “He always had a positive attitude that was contagious.” (Chris Clark | Spectrum Health Beat)
“He understood what he could handle,” said physiotherapist Chris Mueller. “And between the two of us, really driven by him, the goals were realistic every day and were met.” (Chris Clark | Spectrum Health Beat)
When COVID restrictions limited visitors to one, Katrina balanced raising three children with her career and seeing Lucas. “She is an amazing woman,” he said. (Chris Clark | Spectrum Health Beat)
“He’s got such a fire to come home, to be with his family, to get back to his old self,” said Burgess. “I adore him so much.” (Chris Clark | Spectrum Health Beat)
While in hospital, he tried reading Mia a bedtime story a few times a week and helping Luca with his math. Isabella, he thought, didn’t need him as much as she used to. (Chris Clark | Spectrum Health Beat)
“I didn’t see them for a week at most when I was traveling,” Lucas said of his children. “It’s been three months now, which is incredible.” (Chris Clark | Spectrum Health Beat)
Lucas Smith, the 42-year-old father of three, is an analytical chemist and trained biochemist.
The University of Michigan graduate is a third degree Master Mason, cafeteria member, retired boxer, and avid traveler who has visited 46 states and 30 countries.
He’s also a rehabilitation success story.
“I knew it wasn’t good”
Life as Lucas knew it came to a standstill on February 6, 2021 when he underwent an aortic dissection. An aortic aneurysm had ruptured and had to replace part of the artery.
That day everything was fine until it was no more.
Lucas had difficulty grasping and could not hold anything. His vision became blurry. He had a slight headache. Most amazingly for him, it became hard to think.
“Since I’m a cerebral type, it was a little scary,” he said. “I wasn’t exactly sure what was happening, but I knew it wasn’t good.”
Lucas called his wife, Katrina, who took him to a local hospital. After the doctors diagnosed his condition, they quickly dispatched him Spectrum Health Butterworth Hospitalwhere the nursing team took him straight from the ambulance to the operating room.
Doctors gave him a 50-50 chance of surviving the surgery.
He underwent three operations in about 12 hours. Then came a cascade of blows.
As his situation got worse, the doctors put him in a medically induced coma.
Lucas has random memories of the time before the operation.
“Mostly lightning,” he said.
Next he woke up in the intensive care unit. His brother Jake and Katrina explained what had happened.
A week had passed.
The entire time he was underground, Lucas had extremely vivid dreams.
“When I woke up from the coma, I had a hard time deciding what was real and what was dreaming,” said Lucas. “For me there was no difference. I hallucinated for several days. I would see people in my room who weren’t actually there and have full conversations with them. It was interesting and scary. “
When Lucas found out about his strokes, he wondered if he had lost much of his mental faculties.
“I have no marketable skills outside of my brain use,” he said. “I can’t fix a car. I can’t weld. I know math, chemistry and physics. “
A speech therapist performed a cognitive assessment. Lucas couldn’t do a simple subtraction.
“That was very scary,” said Lucas. “If I’m not an analytical chemist, I don’t know what I am.”
A persona challenge
Lucas thought about work – he was always the breadwinner – and being a canteen where games, strategy, and math play a role.
“I haven’t been unemployed a day in my life since my studies,” he says. “I’ve always been strong. I’m 6’3 “, 280 pounds. I’m a tall boxing guy – the proverbial pillar of strength for the family.
“From then on, being able to sit in a wheelchair is a personal challenge. The potential to change everything you are or have been. “
What if he couldn’t be a chemist anymore? He had gone from high skills and functions to a lack of basic math skills.
Though terrifying, this turned out to be temporary.
“I can’t tell you I would pass the cafeteria exam again, but I feel 100% when it comes to anything brain,” said Lucas.
After two weeks in intensive care at Butterworth Hospital, the health team moved Lucas to another ward for two weeks to continue the healing.
Once he was stable and with a normal heart rhythm, he moved into the Spectrum Health Inpatient Rehabilitation Center at Blodgett Hospital.
His brother and wife were by his side every day, motivating him and raising his spirits. His sister-in-law, Wendy Smith, RN, stopped occasionally to have lunch with him when she was working at Blodgett Hospital.
“It was critical to my improvement,” said Lucas.
When the renewed COVID-19 restrictions restricted visitors to one, Katrina balanced raising three children with her career and seeing Lucas.
“She is an amazing woman,” he said.
Lucas had three hours a day of therapy and was remotely returning to part-time work to keep his mind occupied and occupied. He credits his employer, Teledyne, with minimizing his stress levels by being flexible and delegating his responsibilities. “Teledyne was just fantastic,” said Lucas.
Patrick Mullan, DO, a physician from Spectrum Health who specializes in physical medicine and rehabilitation, was pleased to see Lucas making daily improvements at the rehabilitation center.
“He has made so much progress with the work that he has put into therapy. He always had a positive attitude that was contagious, ”said Dr. Mullan.
“He has consistently reached new milestones in recovery,” he added. “The nurses, therapists, care providers, case managers, and other staff were all happy that he had steadily and significantly improved his function so that he could return home to his family and life.”
A powerful moment
Under the guidance of nurses, therapists and others, the activities at the rehabilitation center became a life changing experience for Lucas.
He works primarily with physiotherapist Chris Mueller and occupational therapist assistant Jenn Burgess.
“You are brilliant,” said Lucas. “You have pushed me hard to make progress and continue to achieve.”
Reaching milestones in the rehabilitation center is humiliating. Many of them seemed small to Lucas, who has grown by leaps and bounds – standing with a support device, standing without help, only walking with a walking aid.
“Jenn and Chris were more than just therapists and friends,” said Lucas. “They were cheerleaders and pillars.”
In the beginning, Burgess and Lucas had to learn to move with each other.
“We’re kidding now about synchronized swimming,” said Burgess. “He has come this far. The first time he went for a walk with Chris, I felt like a mother hen and started clapping. It was a powerful moment.
“He brings joy to the whole unit. He tells people how wonderful they are, whether it’s environmental services or the people who bring him his lunch, every nurse – once he’s met them, he remembers their name.
“He has such a fire in him to come home, to be with his family, to return to his old self. I adore him so much. “
No place is like home
Before Lucas was released in early May, Jake and Katrina trained as caregivers to help him once he got home.
“You take me to appointments and are there for me day in and day out,” said Lucas. “I love them both very much.”
He also loves Isabella, Luca, and Mia – 12, 10, and 6 – who have only seen their dad on FaceTime.
While in hospital, he tried reading Mia a bedtime story a few times a week and helping Luca with his math. Isabella, he thought, didn’t need him as much as she used to.
“I wish she had. She is hot. She is smarter than me at the same age. And traveled widely. She’s been to more countries than most adults. She is my travel partner. “
Lucas is thrilled to hug his children again.
“I didn’t see her in a week at most when I was traveling,” he said. “It’s been three months now, which is incredible.”
Lucas returned home to read Mia personally, play video games with Luca, and learn about Isabella’s life.
“I felt a little out of place because I wasn’t there all day and I missed that. I want to immerse myself in it. “
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