Randy Monceaux Photography & Amico Studios.
(Ed. note: This article is a follow-up to one that appeared in the
issue of Partners in the Spirit. Here John speaks more about how he made
it from near-death to recovery.)
The day John Scolastico went to the doctor with his wife to have his
heart checked, he thought it would be a routine cardio check-up. He didn’t
know that it would be the last normal moment of his life.
The doctors found three blockages in his heart that were serious enough
to warrant quadruple bypass heart surgery. After the surgery, he was put
into a medically induced coma. While unconscious, he suffered a major infection
in his chest and stomach cavity. He was operated on three times, and at
one point his blood pressure dropped so low, the doctor told John’s
wife that he would probably die.
Two years later, John walked his daughter down the aisle for her wedding.
John’s journey from near-death to recovery was long and extremely
trying. He felt abandoned. He battled with depression. He blamed God.
He credits his survival through this difficult time to the continued
faith and encouragement of those around him.
“It was all about support,” says John, a member of Christ Lutheran
Church in Reading, Pa. “While I was in a coma, the pastor [Pastor
Bruce Osterhout] would stop in many days and pray by my bed. I had the whole
church praying for me. Prayer had a lot to do with (my recovery).”
John was 55 at the time, and his extended confinement to bed and other
critical-care issues made his medical case especially difficult. He was
completely immobile; the only thing he could do independently was feed himself.
Nursing homes couldn’t handle his case. The hospital couldn’t
continue caring for him. So, after a year of hospitalization, he was transferred
to Good Shepherd’s Conrad W. Raker Rehabilitation Center. This move “was
the best thing that could have happened to me,” says John.
John says his primary physical therapist, Shirl Erb, was great. “All
the staff at the Raker center were great,” he says. “I cried
a lot. I was afraid I would be there for the rest of my life. But the nurses
kept telling me, ‘you can do it.’”
Thanks to Raker’s commitment to John’s rehabilitation and the
ongoing support of John’s family and church, John eventually stood
up for the first time in two years. He walked for six weeks using special
boots, and then with a walker.
Then, he had a setback. He contracted a frightening bout of pneumonia
and then a bladder infection. While recovering from these setbacks, John
was afraid he would lose all of the work he had accomplished.
“But Shirl came back, pushed me again. I didn’t lose as much as I thought
I would,” he says.
With Shirl’s help, John mastered the walker again, then a three-pronged
cane, then a single cane. Once he regained his balance, he was able to walk
without any support. His family, his church, and the residents and staff
of Raker continued to motivate John until he regained enough strength to
walk out the Raker Center door. On that day, the staff and residents threw
a farewell party for him and lined the hallway to see him off.
“We’ve discharged many residents to the community, but most were dependent
on technology,” says his therapist, Shirl, in a recent article in
Sweet Charity. “Not John.”
When John returned home, he witnessed the incredible support of his church
and family. A wheelchair ramp into John's house, funded in part by Thrivent
Financial for Lutherans, was built by church volunteers and a work crew
from the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia's Summer Youth Academy.
Because John and Sandie had to give up their car to pay medical bills, his
four children -- Chris, John, Jaime, and Jennifer -- provide a lot of transportation.
John now walks in the neighborhood, up the street to the stores near
the church, one block from his home. The experience changed the way he sees
“You have to have faith and believe in yourself,” he says. “I
did blame God for this. I thought of the wrong stuff I did in my life. But
my church talked me out of that part. You have to have faith, get support,
and don’t abandon your family members. Don’t be afraid to cry.
Don’t be afraid to tell people how you feel. My wife was very supportive,
and never took any credit, even though she also had to take care of my brother.” (Jimmy
is 55 with Down's Syndrome).
“I still can’t do certain things. I have an aide in the morning who
helps me go for a walk every day. But I don’t take anything for granted
John was given a gift: a second chance to see the world through a new
lens. If embracing faith and family helped John walk again -- when no one
thought he would -- just imagine what these gifts can add to your life.