Devra Gromley was the primary caretaker for her brother throughout his battle with liver cancer. The day after his funeral, she went on ride on her motorcycle to help her cope with the loss. She was having trouble breathing throughout the day, but attributed it to the smoking habit she recently picked up again due to the stress of her brother’s illness. She thought her labored breathing was a side effect, so she ignored it. But as it worsened, she realized something else had to be wrong. She had her family take her to the emergency room on Aug. 14.
Three days later, she was in the intensive care unit, on a ventilator, and diagnosed with Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome (ARDS). After a few weeks, she was put into a drug-induced coma and her doctors prepared her family for the worse. The odds of her surviving the ordeal were slim and if she did survive, it was anticipated there would brain damage due to the oxygen deprivation Devra endured.
Despite the odds being against her, Devra began to slowly recover. She remembers waking slowly while she was still on a ventilator. She heard her husband mention Labor Day.
“At that point, I had no idea what happened and was stunned that it could be September,” Devra said. “I wasn’t even sure if my brother had died. No one was talking about it and I didn’t want to ask.”
Devra eventually began communicating by writing notes back and forth with her family, doctors, and nurses. They filled her in on what had happened to her the past few weeks. Eventually she was well enough to move on from the acute care hospital she had been in for nearly month.
The next step in her recovery process was rehabilitation. She heard of HealthSouth Rehabilitation Hospital of Harmarville in the past and decided that was where she wanted to continue her recovery.
When Devra arrived at HealthSouth Harmarville, she couldn’t do much on her own.
“I couldn’t hold myself up or walk. I couldn’t really do much of anything for myself besides eat and that was difficult,” Devra said. “I remember I couldn’t even push the call button to call the nurse.”
Devra’s rehabilitation care team started her therapy with small tasks like helping her to a sitting position and asking her to hold herself up for a period of time. As her strength improved, they’d transition her to more difficult tasks. Her mobility and independence began to improve.
“All of the therapists were so patient and caring,” Devra said. “I can’t say enough good things. I will never forget them. I felt like I mattered and they were going to work with me as long as it took.”
When asked what her goal was when she left HealthSouth Harmarville, she had a very specific request.
“I told them I wanted to walk out of the hospital and ride away on my motorcycle,” she said.
Although Devra wasn’t quite ready for her motorcycle when she was discharged from inpatient rehabilitation, after a few months of outpatient, she returned to HealthSouth Harmarville to visit her care team, but this time, instead of riding by car, she was on her motorcycle.
A year later, Devra decided she wanted to compete in a triathlon. With doctor’s approval, she started training with a coach and friends in preparation to run a triathlon the next year. After a few setbacks like being diagnosed with skin cancer and torn quadriceps, Devra finally made it to race day.
“The triathlon was amazing, but also very hard. It was harder than I even imagined,” Devra said. “My friend Angela raced by my side the whole time and helped me make it through.”
Devra completed the race in 2:12:58. The race director had heard about her story and presented her with a specially-made plaque at the finish line. The winners of the race also greeted her at the finish line.
“They were so kind,” Devra said. “The winners finished in an hour and waited almost another hour and a half for me. I’m still overwhelmed with the love I’ve been shown.”
A year since her race and two years since her trip to the emergency room, Devra continues to come back to HealthSouth Harmarville to meet with the therapists that helped her get back on her feet.
“In my opinion, HealthSouth Harmarville has the best therapists,” she said. “I will never forget them.”