ROCK FALLS – Silent. Expressionless. Unresponsive.
Comatose, Kari Jaskiewicz – once independent, hardworking and full of life – had lost herself in the darkness.
Kari’s devoted mother prayed by her bedside, hoping for a miracle.
According to the staff at Transitions Nursing and Rehabilitation Center in Rock Falls, that’s exactly what happened – a miracle.
Today – more than 5 months later – Kari laughs and chats with her family and caregivers. She eats, moves her limbs, sits up and dreams about a bright future.
Kari’s first miracle
When Kari slipped into a comatose state in late April, doctors offered no hope that her condition would improve. The determined 43-year-old Byron native proved them wrong.
Kari has been a miracle since birth, says her 64-year-old mother, Ada Hendrick of Byron.
“When I delivered her, they told me – if she lived – she would be blind, paralyzed and mentally retarded.”
Kari was born with spina bifida. Ada watched other babies with the spine development disorder die, one by one, in the neonatal intensive care unit, but Kari survived. She never developed the health problems that her doctors feared – only a learning disability and coordination problems.
Despite her challenges, Kari graduated from Byron High School with average grades, and never took a special education class.
Kari’s loss of independence
Kari always has been independent, according to her mother.
Classmates pushed and bullied her on the stairways because she walked with a brace between her legs. One day, Ada offered to leave work to walk with Kari.
“She said, ‘No, I can do it myself,’” Ada said with a laugh. “She’s that way now.”
After high school, Kari left the nest.
“She’s never been without a man, and she’s never been without a job,” her mother said. “They were never the best of either.”
Kari, who is divorced, is medically unable to have children.
She has worked at various fast-food restaurants, and as a custodian for a senior living facility. Kari refused to live on disability.
Her independent lifestyle started crumbling in 2009, when multiple infections ravaged her body. They took a serious toll on her physical and mental state. Over time, she did not know where she was and lost all ability to function.
Eventually, Kari, who was living in Plano, could not eat, walk or talk, and could respond only to touch. She does not remember anything from that time.
After her lengthy hospitalization, Kari needed a care facility. Because of her limited finances, however, she was turned down by about 40 facilities.
Kari’s turning point
Transitions was different.
“We just worked with the family and did the extra legwork,” said Director of Business Development Lisa Kennay, 40, of Dixon.
Kari came to Rock Falls in May. The Transitions staff never gave up on her, and continually tried to communicate with her using light and music stimulation and restorative therapy. Within 2 weeks, Kari responded to her name.
In July, she made eye contact and laughed at a nurse’s joke. Soon after, Kari moved her limbs, gave high fives, followed commands, squeezed her nurse’s hand, and shook her head to communicate “no.”
She started eating in August and talking – first in whispers and then louder and louder – in September. Kari startled a nurse by saying “hello” when she entered the room.
Kari’s mother finally heard the voice she had longed to hear for months.
“It’s just like somebody turned a switch on, and she started talking,” Ada said. “Everybody was in shock.”
Kari described her feelings when she woke up.
“It was scary,” she said. “I had no idea what was going on or where I was.”
Today, Kari can write her name, sit up, throw beanbags, exercise with weights and more.
“It feels good,” Kari said. “It feels really good.”
Marie Hoagland, 60, of Rock Falls, is a restorative aide who works with Kari.
“I am excited to see what she can do from one day to the next,” Marie said. “I can see much improvement. ... It happened so quick.”
Kim Shuman, 50, of Sterling, agreed. She works in social services at Transitions.
“Every time I come back from vacation, [Kari] has a new surprise for us,” she said.
Kari is eager to make progress. Her mother recalled a recent visit:
“She was trying to get her legs over the side of the bed. I said, ‘What are you doing?’ She said, ‘I’m gonna stand up.’ I said, ‘No, you can’t do that yet,’” Ada said with a laugh.
Standing, however, will happen soon, according to Marie.
“I’m confident she’ll be able to do it. ... She’s getting stronger.”
Kari’s mother is forever grateful to Transitions.
“I think if Kari hadn’t come here, she wouldn’t be the way she is today,” Ada said. “... She doesn’t need to just lay in a bed and die. I didn’t want her to do that.”
Ada also believes God is responsible for her daughter’s shocking recovery.
“What other explanation is there?” she said. “I believe in the power of prayer.”
Ada gently leaned over Kari’s bed and asked, “Who loves you more than Mom?”
“God – that’s it,” Kari replied.
Kari showed off her fingernails that her mother had painted purple. Ada visits her daughter every other day.
Kari took care of Ada in January, after she fell in the bathtub and suffered a head injury. Their roles reversed.
Opposite her bed, Ada placed a framed picture of Kari at her senior prom, wearing a flowing white gown and curls.
“I wanted people to see how really normal she was,” Ada said. “She was a normal teenager. She snuck around; she blamed her sister for drinking my butter shots that she was drinking.”
Kari smiled. “Yes I did. ... But it was very good stuff.”
Because her mother believes in her, Kari believes in herself.
“My mom has been a big help,” she said. “She’s talking to me and encouraging me to do things.”
Asked what the future holds, Kari said, “I have no idea. I hope I can eventually walk and ride my bike.”
Kari said she wants a new bike for her birthday.
Kari also wants to bowl, play games and work again, and spend more time with her family, which includes her father, Larry Lane of Machesney Park, and her sister, Corrinne Lane of Byron.
Ada knows, however, that her daughter may need lifelong professional care.
Her mother asked Kari what she wants to do next. Kari’s reply: “Get some ice cream.”