Pilot Grounded by Brain Injury: How St. Luke's helped reestablish his

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Pilot Grounded by Brain Injury: How St. Luke's helped reestablish his life

Mike Bollwitt with Kevin Komenda, therapist with St. Luke's Physical and Medicine Rehab

One moment can change everything. Mike Bollwitt (54) of North Liberty, Iowa, a fiercely independent and successful commercial pilot and Air Force veteran, was visiting his son in Mississippi in November 2018 when complications from an infection led to a brain injury. The injury landed him in an ICU in Memphis, Tennessee for a month. He and his wife, Jeri Bollwitt, were beyond grateful when they learned he could begin rehabilitation at St. Luke’s where inpatient rehabilitation is accredited by CARF, the Rehabilitation Accreditation Commission.

“I went from flying over the Atlantic to barely being able to communicate or keep my eyes open,” explains Bollwitt. 

Road to recovery
When he arrived at St. Luke’s, Bollwitt was unable to sit up on his own, keep his eyes open, or walk due to partial loss of mobility on his left side. The holidays were in full swing and the Bollwitts were unsure of what to expect upon their arrival, “I was still very agitated when I arrived at St. Luke’s,” says Bollwitt, “but the nurses, techs and doctors had a very healing touch, tone and attitude right off the bat and that served better than what any sedative could have done for me.”

Bollwitt underwent three hours of intense daily physical, speech and occupational therapy, and received 24 hour nurse care. He worked closely with Kevin Komenda, a physical therapist with St. Luke’s Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation, to improve his walking, balance, lower extremity and core strength. “Mike is an extremely motivated individual and he worked as hard as he could each session,” explains Komenda, “During that hard work, his quick sense of humor, wit and movie quotes always kept the mood light and fun.”

Bollwitt expressed the optimism he felt within the walls of St. Luke’s was infectious, and he believes it has played a key role in his progress, “The therapists asked me to be as strong as I could be. Oftentimes it was painful, but I trusted what I was doing was safe and necessary. The positive attitude everyone has at St. Luke’s helped me break through dark walls,” says Bollwitt.

He witnessed it around every corner – when he regained the strength to take those first few steps, nurses and techs were cheering him on down the hall. “Going from a guy who could barely communicate, to see him now is truly unbelievable. He is able to get in and out of bed by himself and walk with light assistance,” shares Dr. Stanley Mathew, Physiatrist, Medical Director of St. Luke’s Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation.

From setting up a smart speaker for Bollwitt to turn his room’s lamp and television on, to coordinating a video call so he could watch his son graduate from the Air Force Academy, the Bollwitts credit the staff for going above and beyond their normal duties. “The people here love their jobs and it shows every day,” says Bollwitt.  

Empowering family members

Before Bollwitt’s injury he participated in a daily yoga practice. His wife shared this with his therapists and they were able to incorporate yoga cues into his treatment. She thanks the staff at St. Luke’s for always making her feel included in her husband’s rehab, “The nurses, techs and therapists have been phenomenal,” says Jeri, “The collaboration with family is unique here and I know the St. Luke’s team is invested in my husband succeeding.” 

Bollwitt summarizes his care in three words: Iowans helping Iowans. “As a 27-year veteran of the Air Force, I understand what it takes to keep a team self-sustaining and you’ve done that at St. Luke’s. We will miss this place and the team.” 

Bollwitt has moved on to his next phase of brain and spinal rehabilitation at a facility in Omaha, Nebraska. Learn more about St. Luke’s Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation department or read more patient stories here