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A Road Well Traveled

A Road Well Traveled
When many people in our community think about Hunterdon Hospice, they think about Joan Grady. A devoted and mission-driven individual, Joan, Registered Nurse and Advanced Practice Nurse in Oncology, worked for Hunterdon Hospice for 20 years, first as a Patient Coordinator and most notably, as the organization's Director which she became in 1999.

Joan was always active and on the go, but two days after Christmas in 2008, she woke up and had the "strange feeling" that she couldn't find her left arm. She soon realized she had no sensation at all on the entire left side of her body. Klaus Hilgers, Joan's fiancÚ of 20 years and today her husband, quickly called 911. Joan was taken by ambulance to the Emergency Room at Hunterdon Medical Center where it was confirmed that she was suffering the effects of a massive stroke.

Joan was admitted to Hunterdon Medical Center under the care of Dr. Manish Viradia, neurologist and Dr. Glen Tonnessen, cardiologist. Joan's case was atypical because her heart was in good shape as was her vascular system -- leaving no clear reason why the stroke had occurred.

After spending several days in the hospital, Joan entered St. Lawrence Rehabilitation Center where she remained for several weeks. As Joan's condition improved, Klaus and Joan's daughter, Erin, struggled with the dilemma of how to help her next as she needed someone with her 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. They worried that isolating Joan in long-term care could hinder her continued recovery.

After much deliberation, they decided to take Joan home and do their best to take care of her. Over the next six months, Home Health Services, a program of Hunterdon Healthcare, provided Joan with in-home physical, speech and occupational therapy as well as frequent visits by nurses, home health aides and companions to assist the family. Joan also continued treatment at St. Lawrence, and attended Briteside Adult Care Center. Everyone felt that Joan was making good progress and getting better.

Then in June, a little over six months after her stroke, Joan woke up one morning and said to Klaus that something was "just not right." It was 5 a.m. when Klaus rushed her to the Emergency Department of Hunterdon Medical Center. Joan got out of the car and walked in with Klaus at her side. Shortly after arriving, Joan slipped into a coma from massive bleeding on the right side of her brain.

An action plan was put in place to Medi-vac Joan by helicopter to a Trauma Center, either Lehigh Valley or Overlook Hospital where neurosurgery could be performed. As they awaited a return phone call with clearance for her admission, the E.D. shift changed and Dr. Ed Spector arrived and assessed Joan's situation. Klaus remembers Dr. Spector saying that he knew of a neurosurgeon with an office right across the street from the hospital, Dr. Mark McLaughlin, of Princeton Brain and Spine Care, and was going to call him right away. At around 8 a.m., Dr. Spector returned with Dr. McLaughlin who assessed Joan's situation, too, and said that she had about a 25% chance of surviving. He turned to Klaus and Erin and said that he was ready to operate. Because Klaus and Joan were not married, the decision ultimately had to be made by Erin as Joan's closest relative and power of attorney. Fortunately, Klaus and Erin agreed on the course of action, but Klaus remembers how difficult it was and how powerless he felt.

After two major surgeries to the brain, the hemorrhaging was stopped. Today, in thinking back, Klaus is certain that Joan would not have survived transport by helicopter to a nearby Trauma Center, and that by acting as quickly and decisively as they did, Dr. Spector and Dr. McLaughlin saved Joan's life.

Joan spent the next several days in the Intensive Care Unit under the care of Dr. Keith Goldstein and Dr. Joseph Gugliotta. No one quite knew what Joan's outcome would be, including Joan, who remembers thinking she was probably going to die.

But she recalls that she felt a lot of support around her, too. Every day, Dr. Gugliotta was there testing her with "What's my name, Joan?" Before her stroke, Joan and Dr. Goldstein frequently saw each other at a nearby health club where they both exercised. When under his care, she remembers how positive and encouraging Dr. Goldstein was to her at the bedside, saying things like, "Joan, you didn't cancel your membership at the Club, did you? You're going to be back there soon."

Joan recounts others who played a major role in her recovery, all of the nurses, physicians and staff of Hunterdon Medical Center and most notably, Reverend Jim DeVries, the Hospital's Chaplain who did so much to support Joan, Klaus and her family as she struggled to recover. Joan feels it was all the support and encouragement she got from so many that helped her fight her way back.

Eventually, Joan's condition improved enough that she was readmitted back at St. Lawrence for rehabilitation in the Brain Injury Unit. After several weeks, she returned home and she and Klaus got married with Rev. DeVries officiating at their wedding ceremony and a wonderful celebration was held at Matt's Red Rooster, a Flemington restaurant owned and operated by friends Matthew and Erin McPherson.

Today, Joan continues to celebrate and so do her doctors. At a recent visit to Dr. Viradia, Joan describes that he exclaimed, "Joan, I never thought I'd see you walk in here like this – it's unbelievable." When Dr. McLaughlin saw how well Joan was walking, he said to her, "Joan, you've made my week!"

Joan and Klaus' family continue to celebrate with regular visits to see and help care for Joan's five grandchildren. The Hunterdon Healthcare Foundation wishes Joan, Klaus and their family, many celebrations in the years to come. We would also like to publicly acknowledge Joan and Klaus for a recent act of generosity. Joan and Klaus have established a Charitable Gift Annuity with the Hunterdon Medical Center Foundation -- for the future benefit of Hunterdon Hospice. Thank you, Klaus, and thank you, JOAN!


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