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November 8, 2012

Amazing feet: After 10 years in a wheelchair, New Albany man, 88, is walking again

NEW ALBANY — Like most homeowners, Jesse and Agnes Beyl use their garage to store rarely used or unneeded items. But the contents of their garage look a little different from yours or mine.

Lined up neatly next to a handicap-access ramp that leads into the house are walkers and wheelchairs, both motorized and manual. A power scooter sits collecting dust by the wall, next to the car attachment once used by the Beyls to transport the scooter from place to place.

For 10 years, Jesse Beyl, 88, couldn’t walk, and no one knew why.

“Nobody’s ever been able to pin it down,” said Jesse Beyl, a World War II veteran, “but I got hurt when I was in the service, so that’s where I think it came from. That’s my opinion, no one else’s.”

On May 28, Jesse Beyl suffered a stroke, and the paralysis stole from him the use of his right arm. But just a few weeks later, Beyl hadn’t just regained control over the arm.

He found the strength to walk again.

“I’ve never seen anything like this in 40 years,” said Dr. John Shaw, medical director at Southern Indiana Rehab Hospital.

When Jesse Beyl was first admitted to SIRH, he was placed in the hospital’s sub-acute unit in the hopes of restoring use of his arm. For most stroke patients, recovering from paralysis can take weeks or even months. Beyl had regained control of his arm after a week.

“Just weakness was left,” said Vicki Pelkey, who served as Jesse Beyl’s in-patient physical therapist at SIRH. “That was pretty miraculous after one week.”

But not as miraculous as what happened next. Because of Jesse Beyl’s rapid recovery from the stroke, the hospital transferred him to the acute rehab unit, where they worked on getting the New Albany man back on his feet.

“They got me to stand for a minute to start with. I couldn’t do it,” Jesse Beyl recalled. “Then they had me standing for five minutes. They just kept working with me, and then after that, they put me in bars to hold on to, and [Pelkey], she kicked this foot forward with her foot, and this foot followed.”

If anything, the stroke should have worsened Jesse Beyl’s condition, Shaw said.

“I don’t know if it was the motivation and just his attitude,” Pelkey added. “He was amazing. It really doesn’t follow the normal recovery processes.”

Over the next two weeks, Jesse Beyl went from struggling to make it 10 feet using parallel bars to brace himself to walking the halls of the hospital on his own.

“By the time he left, he was walking over 700 feet,” Shaw said. “We recommend a walker, but the day he discharged here, I actually saw him walking the halls with the therapist carrying the walker in his arm. His strength returned to what we call probably good, a good level in lower extremities, and he was totally independent in his ability to ambulate, and he had good return in the right arm.”

Jesse Beyl’s first desire was to walk hand-in-hand with Agnes Beyl, Pelkey recalled.

“It brought tears to my eyes,” Pelkey said. “It was amazing.”

With Jesse Beyl back on his feet, the Beyls are working to remove the evidence of 10 years of wheelchairs and walkers. Agnes Beyl has painted over the black scars that were left along doorways by the motorized chair.

“Our house is not built for handicapped,” Agnes Beyl said. “The doors aren’t wide, and there’s only one that you can really widen. He had stripes on all the doors from the wheelchair — big black streaks.”

Now that Jesse Beyl is back on his feet, the roles in the Beyl home have changed. Once, Agnes Beyl was the caretaker, responsible for loading and unloading Jesse’s medical equipment to and from the car. Now, with Agnes Beyl suffering from an untreatable form of breast cancer, Jesse Beyl can do more to share the load.

“I feel better about myself,” Jesse Beyl said. “And I feel better because I can do some chores for her. ... I’m lazy, but I’m not that lazy.”

Because of Jesse Beyl’s limitations, the couple had once relied on the generosity of friends and neighbors to make it. Friends would offer to give rides. Neighbors would cook for the Beyls.

“We have wonderful friends, wonderful neighbors,” Agnes Beyl said. “Not everyone has good neighbors, but we really do.”

Along with the return of Jesse Beyl’s ability to walk came the desire for independence. He once had his golf clubs up for sale. Though he still struggles with weakness in that right arm, he believes he’ll be back on the course playing with his daughter soon enough.

“I said, ‘Don’t give up on me yet,” Jesse Beyl said. “‘You might be able to play a round with me yet.’”

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