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After stroke left him 'trapped,' construction worker turns to Via Christi for recovery

Clay Bewley

The stroke that ambushed Clay Bewley’s brain left him unable to move or speak, but it didn’t affect his mental abilities or memory.

“I was trapped,” he says, remembering the helplessness he felt starting Aug. 20, 2014.

Clay was 38 when he suffered a blood vessel clot that affected both sides of his brain — and, therefore, both sides of his body. He was rushed to Ascension Via Christi St. Francis, where he was essentially paralyzed and could only move his eyes.

“I was nervous and scared,” Clay says.

Journeying back to ‘my normal self’

After being hospitalized at St. Francis for nearly two months, Clay’s medical condition stabilized. He and his family decided the next steps in his recovery would be at Ascension Via Christi Rehabilitation Hospital in Wichita.

“When I got there, I could only move one finger,” he recalls. “I just wanted to be my normal self.”

That normal self is a 6-foot-2-inch, outgoing, friendly construction worker who was used to being active and in shape.

Marilyn Jacobs, MD, was among those who saw hope in Clay’s situation.

“Every patient admitted to the Rehabilitation Hospital has the possibility of getting better and going home,” she says. “When they have a good support system, their chances are even better.”

Clay had that in his mother, Karren, and his 3-year-old daughter, Kaelynn, who were often by his side in rehab.

Recovery, step by step

Clay’s first day at the Rehabilitation Hospital was Oct. 15, 2014. At first, physical therapists moved Clay’s arms and legs to help his brain relearn those motions. Gradually, he hit milestones.

Clay continues progressing in outpatient therapy at the Rehabilitation Hospital. He still walks with a walker and can dress himself, but he’s hoping to improve his speech and to be able to prepare his own meals as well.

His goal: “I want to be functional and get a job — something I like. I was so far gone, I just hope I keep getting better.”

A supportive ‘family’ of care

Waneta Yoder, a physical therapist, says she’s still amazed to see Clay walk down the halls of the Rehabilitation Hospital.

“He worked hard, and he was persistent,” she says. “In the first couple of months, he saw progress, and that gave him momentum.”

Adds Dr. Jacobs: “Every day, he looked at you with these eyes that said, ‘Please help me.’ He did everything we ever asked of him. Clay is where he is because of the determination he had to recover.”

Now, Clay is a bit of a celebrity at the hospital.

“He greets everybody and he’s always so friendly,” Yoder says. “The patients become family to us. We’re such a part of their life and they’re such a part of our lives.”

Karren, Clay’s mother, says the feeling is mutual.

“They took so much pride in their care and comfort for him,” she says. “It’s not just a job — you could tell they are good-hearted people.”