Photo credits: Randy Monceaux Photography & Amico Studios.
[This article is
reprinted by permission from the January-February 2006 issue of Good
Shepherd's donor publication, Sweet Charity]
Elizabeth McDonald, Development Writer, Good Shepherd
On a warm sunny day last August, John Scolastico woke up, put on
a bright blue shirt, said his goodbyes, and walked through the lobby
of the Conrad W. Raker Center to go home.
Two months later, he walked his daughter down the aisle and danced
with her at her wedding.
“I started crying,” John says, recalling the day. “She
For a man who two years earlier nearly died, this was no small
But John is, if nothing else, determined. And so, on August 2,
2005, after living at Good Shepherd for nearly 21 months, John made
history as the first Raker Center resident to walk out on his own
and go home.
This is a miracle in my book,” says Scott McCall, a 21-year
Good Shepherd resident.
Few would disagree – least of all John.
A Hard Road Home
One of the last things John Scolastico remembers is going into
the operating room for quadruple bypass heart surgery. When he woke
up from a medically induced coma, two and a half months had passed.
During that time, a major infection had set in throughout his chest
and stomach cavity, very nearly ending his life. Most of his major
organs failed, he was on kidney dialysis for two weeks, he had a feeding
tube inserted in his stomach and he was breathing with the help of
a tube inserted in his throat.
At one point, John’s blood pressure dropped so low, his wife
Sandy was advised to “get the undertaker.”
But as John tells it, “God wasn’t ready for me yet.” And
God wasn’t. But it was just the beginning of what would be
a very long, slow journey.
John had been hospitalized for nearly a year before he was released
to Good Shepherd on November 12, 2003. The then 55-year-old Reading
resident’s prolonged confinement to bed coupled with multiple
critical care issues — at one point John had 11 open wounds
from various surgeries — weakened his nerves and muscles rendering
him virtually helpless.
“I was told by the doctors at the hospital that I’d never walk
again,” John says. “I just couldn’t believe I
was that sick.”
Lisa Fake, R.N., resident care coordinator at the Raker Center,
remembered what John was like when he arrived. “He was immobile,” she
says. “The only thing he could do independently was feed himself.”
John required such a high-skill level of care, going home from
the hospital wasn’t an option. Already his wife was caring for
John’s 53-year-old mentally-challenged brother. Nursing homes
refused to accept John because they would be unable to care for
But then John and his wife heard about Good Shepherd. “It was
the best thing that could have happened to me,” John says.
Still, life had dealt him a cruel blow and John was depressed
and disheartened. “I cried a lot when I came here and saw some of
the residents with their hands and legs all twisted,” John says. “I
wondered why God did this to me. But then I made a lot of friends
here and I learned there’s a lot of courageous people here who
don’t feel like they’re disabled and keep pushing on.”
One Step at a Time
Perhaps it was the residents’ spirit of perseverance or maybe
it was the tough love John found in physical therapy. Whatever
it was, he slowly began emerging from a sense of hopelessness
to a belief
in all things being possible.
Of his physical therapist, Shirl Erb, John says, “She was a
best friend to me. She worked me pretty hard but if it weren’t
for her, I wouldn’t be walking.”
John’s therapy began right after he was admitted. Shirl wasn’t
about to accept defeat and believed John could walk again. “We
all just pushed John from the beginning,” she says. “Getting
him to roll over was the first thing. When that happened, we
saw he was not truly confined and we all had hope. It was a
But there was yet another big hurdle to getting John on his
feet and it would require surgery to ease the tension that had
in John’s ankles during his illness.
With Shirl’s encouragement, John agreed to the surgery.
Sure enough, he gradually began to walk. It was a monumental achievement
that gave John the first glimmer of hope that he might one
walk out on his own and go home.
“We’re all like one big family here at the Raker Center and everyone
was pulling for him,” Shirl says. “Every time he got
up to walk, there was always a crowd of residents around cheering
With his sense of humor and spirit, John so endeared himself
to residents and staff he was nicknamed “The Mayor.” The
day he left Good Shepherd, they threw a farewell party and
lined the hallway to see him off.
“We’ve discharged many residents to the community, but most were
dependent on technology,” Shirl says. “Not John.”
“It was a learning experience for us and for him,” Lisa reflects. “John
got excellent quality of care here and we really encouraged his independence.
We love John and we miss him dearly, but we’re all so proud
of him. We’re glad he’s back in the community.”
John is slowly getting back to life as he knew it – Friday night
outings with Sandy and keeping up with his beloved Reading Phillies.
He misses his friends at Good Shepherd, but believes his life is richer
for having known them. “There are a lot of people worse off
than I am,” he says. “I can talk and do things for myself.
Some of the residents can’t. I respect life more.”