Karla's Story

Published on Tuesday, February 28, 2017

July 2, 2016 was not a momentous day for Karla Thiel and her husband Jerry, but it was enjoyable. The two were happy to spend the beginning of their three-day holiday vacation driving to different campgrounds, and picking out spots they would like to stay with their new travel trailer. Looking back, Karla treasures the memory of it. The very next day one accident would change their lives dramatically. In the days, weeks, and months that followed, Karla found comfort through her family and discovered an unexpected source of support in The Hospitality House at McLaren.

On July 3, Karla was working inside their home in Oakley, Michigan while Jerry was out trimming tree branches in the yard. When Karla stepped outside to go to the garden, she looked over and saw Jerry lying on the ground motionless with the ladder tipped over next to him. She ran over to him, just as he seemed to be regaining consciousness. He slowly got back on his feet and was talking to Karla trying to piece together what had happened.

“He figured a branch he cut had swung around and hit him in the head knocking him off the ladder,” noted Karla. “I was asking him questions and he started acting kind of funny.”

Karla rushed him to the nearest hospital in Owosso. On the way, his confusion had become more profound. When the Emergency Room staff laid him down for a CT scan, he showed more severe signs of distress. He had an internal ‘brain bleed’ with blood pooling in both lobes of the brain, damaging his brain cells. He was rushed to McLaren Flint where a team of interventional neurologists would be able to assess and treat him.

What followed was a rush of activity and emotions as Karla tried to understand what was happening and how to do what was best for her husband.

“I spent the first night in the Intensive Care Unit with Jerry,” Karla remembers. “I just couldn’t be away from him.”
Her daughter was invited to stay at the Hospitality House that first night. The next day, Karla went over to see it and was impressed with the comfort and beauty of the building. More importantly, she was thrilled it was walking distance from the hospital.

“When I was able to finally go to sleep, I was close enough that I didn’t have to worry,” said Karla.  “If something happened, I could be there in five minutes. Not having to worry about the distance made it more comfortable to deal with.”

The Hospitality House served as a safe, comfortable respite during a devastating time for Karla. She appreciated having a place for her to gather with her daughters and their families when they were able to be in town. They found the patio a wonderful spot to sit and relax, enjoying breakfast outside nearly every day.

“We would get so overloaded with information from the doctors, it was very hard to comprehend everything. Then once we got back to the Hospitality House, it was like a whole different atmosphere. We could get our thoughts together and think about our next steps.”

Karla added that the Hospitality House staff enhanced the warmth and comfort of the place.

“Every time I walked back from the hospital to the Hospitality House, there was someone there to ask ‘How’s your husband? How are you?’ Of course we were very emotional. It was very hard to deal with everything and the staff would cry right along with us.”

The staff also shared recommendations on places to visit in the area. Karla enjoyed the Flint Farmer’s Market and her grandson had a fun play day with his dad at a local park.”

“They were so good! They told me not to give up and they kept me positive, even when given bad news. This journey we’re on is not a sprint race, it’s a marathon.”

Since his discharge from McLaren Flint in September, Jerry has moved to a long-term care facility just 10 minutes from their home in Oakley where Karla can visit with him every day after work. She is encouraged by small signs of progress in his function.

“I’ve given it a lot of thought. If it weren’t for the Hospitality House at McLaren, I probably would have had to rent a hotel room somewhere, but I wouldn’t have been able to afford that for the entire two and a half months. I suppose then I would have had to drive from home every day. I support the Hospitality House fully so it will be there for other families faced with a crisis.”