Darren Askevich - Rhodes, MI
"I swore up and down I was gonna walk out of that place, and I did it."
Rehabilitation Helped Him Recover From Chronic Neuropathy
On a normal day, Darren Askevich of Rhodes spends a lot of time on his feet. For the past 20 years, he has kept busy working as a machinist. When he's not in the shop, Askevich enjoys activities outdoors. On the weekend you might find him out hunting, fishing, camping or tasting the vegetables from his garden. From time to time, he and his girlfriend even like to take long road trips on their motorcycle together.
Last summer, however, something was amiss. At first Askevich wasn't quite sure what was wrong. "I just didn't feel right," he said. During the night his leg would ache on occasion, and he began feeling more tired than usual. Over time he noticed he was slowly losing his normal strength, and his coordination was diminishing.
Askevich was frequently waking up with a Charlie horse-like pain in his leg, and was only getting a couple of hours of sleep at night. The condition eventually got to the point where it became difficult for him to get out of his car or climb stairs.
On the night of Oct. 15, Askevich's condition reached a breaking point. As he was stepping out the door of his house, his legs gave out from underneath him. Askevich managed to fall back into the house as he collapsed, and leveraged himself up on his couch to call 911. Before the ambulance arrived to take him to MyMichigan Medical Center Midland, he collapsed again.
For most of the next week, Askevich remained at MyMichigan Medical Center Midland while the doctors worked to determine what was causing the problem in his legs. Physicians and laboratory staff ran several different tests in their search for a diagnosis.
At last, the doctors discovered that Askevich had an uncommon autoimmune disorder called Chronic Inflammatory Demyelinating Neuropathy, where a patient's own immune system incorrectly attacks the myelin sheath that protects the neurons in their limbs. The result is gradual nerve damage and a loss of normal feeling and mobility in the extremities.
As soon as Neurologist Gregory Dardas, M.D., knew what was wrong, he started Askevich on first-line treatment. For several days, he was put on an IV that infused immunoglobulin (antibodies) into his bloodstream. Along with this, he was started on a course of the anti-inflammatory medication, prednisone.
With his inflammatory condition under control, the next task for Askevich was to regain his strength. His legs were the most obvious part of him affected, but he had been losing strength in his arms and hands as well. Ten days after first being admitted into the hospital, Askevich was transferred to the RehabCentre at MyMichigan Medical Center Alma to begin physical therapy.
Therapy at the RehabCentre went as well as Askevich could have hoped for. "It was a great experience," he said. "Everybody there was knowledgeable, experienced and caring. I can't speak highly enough about them." The high level of care was much needed when Askevich first arrived, since at that time he was unable to stand or walk on his own. However, the nurses were always there to help him sit up or get out of bed when he needed.
For three hours every day, Askevich took part in a combination of physical therapy and occupational therapy. He spent part of the day practicing his exercises on his own as well. The RehabCentre had resistance bands to stretch his legs with and tennis balls to squeeze in his hands, and his brother brought in a set of dumbbells for him to work with. Staff also checked his memory to make sure his cognition was in good shape.
Aside from the therapy, they also had several resources on hand to keep patients comfortable and entertained during their full-time stay. Askevich said there were books for him to read and activities for him to attend. A pastor came by to visit about once a week for those who wanted to talk. "I felt like I was part of something," he said.
Gradually, Askevich began improving. Each new thing he did, though, was both a physical and a mental challenge. "Every time I made a personal advancement, I made it with trepidation," he said. However, he had tremendous support from his physical therapist, Danielle, in overcoming these obstacles. "That lady knows her stuff," Askevich said. "She knew just what to do to keep me moving forward." Whenever she asked him to do something new, she always knew that he could do it.
Along with the friendly and accommodating therapists, the RehabCentre's nurses were also a major part of Askevich's recovery team. Though they were there to check on his overall health and help him get around as needed, the nurses were knowledgeable of his recovery progress and where he was in his training. They helped him begin doing things on his own, like getting out of bed, when they knew he was at the point that he could try them himself.
Finally, on Dec. 8, Askevich had recovered enough to leave the RehabCentre. At that point he was walking on his own with a walker for support. "I swore up and down I was going to walk out of that place, and I did it," he said. He only ended up needing the walker for a week and then a cane for a bit, but now doesn't need either.
Askevich is continuing to make improvements through outpatient therapy and some strengthening exercises he does at home. While he estimates his strength to be about 75 percent of what it was before he developed his condition, it is significantly better than when he was first hospitalized. The dedicated care from his team at both the Medical Center and the RehabCentre made his recovery possible. "I felt like I was in good hands the whole time I was there," he said. Dr. Dardas is still monitoring Askevich's neurological health and has been tapering him off the prednisone.
Earlier this year, Askevich had recovered well enough to return to his job. He's even been able to ride his motorcycle back and forth from work, and is looking forward to eventually resuming his favorite outdoor activities.
The RehabCentre at MyMichigan Medical Center Alma is a hospital-based unit specializing in intensive physical, occupational, recreational and speech therapy. Patients receive a minimum of three hours of therapy each day, along with 24-hour nursing and physician care. Those who would like more information on the RehabCentre may visit mymichigan.org/rehabcentre.