Holding onto hope

Alumna Stacy Blakeslee's family are praying for her continued recovery

Stacy’s ongoing health troubles, which began in early December 2013, has inspired even strangers to reach out to her family with whatever it is they can offer.

Despite the medical struggles and continued financial battles Stacy’s family has had to face to keep their daughter, sister and fiancé alive, the people who love her most still believe she will be able to pull through.

Julia Nagy / The State News

Stacy was diagnosed with a severe staph infection that had damaged one of her heart valves. Every time her heart beat, the infection spread to other areas of her body — most dangerously, it spread to her brain.

Aneurysms began to form along her brain, and her condition only worsened after one of them burst on Christmas Eve, causing a serious stroke that sent her into a semi-responsive state.

Stacy spent nearly two months lying on her back in the University of Michigan Health System hospital in Ann Arbor. From there, she was moved to Spectrum Health System in Grand Rapids, a nursing home and neurology rehab center.

She started to take her first small steps toward rehabilitation there, with five days of speech therapy, physical therapy and occupational therapy every week.

An average day of therapy for her would start between 8:30 a.m. and 9 a.m., when the physical therapist joined her in her private room to stretch her limbs and get her muscles working. After this, the physical and occupational therapists took her to another room, where she lay down on a mat and stretched on her own on command.

Speech therapy was performed in her room and focused on the movement of her lips and jaw, but also worked on helping her communicate without actually speaking. Using a button to indicate “yes” or “no,” Stacy could occasionally move her hand to either button to answer certain questions.

“She’s making baby steps as best as she can with the trauma she had to her brain,” her father, Dale Blakeslee, said. “We’re doing everything possible to get anything back from her. It’s just gonna be a long haul.”

Stacy hit a road bump this past Wednesday after being admitted to Spectrum Health Butterworth hospital because of an infection that doctors suspect led to pneumonia. She is currently being treated to improve her white blood cell count and is expected to return to Spectrum Health System on Wednesday.

Waiting for recovery

Her father described Stacy as the girl who, if she saw someone drop something, would go out of her way to help them pick it up.

Her mother, Patricia Blakeslee, called her determined, timely and beautiful.

“She’s beautiful, inside and out,” Patricia said. “Even in the hospital bed. ... It’s just so interesting. She can’t communicate, but nurses and support staff will just strike up conversation with her and she’s zoned in and attentive.”

She said those conversations usually involve one of the things Stacy loves most — dogs. The television channel Animal Planet often plays as background noise in Stacy’s hospital room.

Stacy is also the go-to person for her fiancé, Brandon Childers. He said if he were ever torn with any decision, he would go to Stacy to ask for her advice. Now, when making choices involving his fiancé’s health, he can’t go to the one person he usually would.

“You can’t realize how much you rely on your spouse,” he said. “When this situation went down, I wanted to talk to her.”

Childers said he filled that gap with religion, and a sense of security that God would heal Stacy.

The only question is when.

Insurance struggles

Dale said the doctors told them it could take up to nine months for Stacy to regain certain functions again. Although her nurses have repeatedly told the family she is where she should be in recovery with the damage to her brain, Stacy’s family is st ill fighting to get her insurance coverage back after it was denied in March.

She stopped receiving coverage because of her insurer’s belief that she wasn’t making functional gains fast enough, according to the family.

The family is going to continue their attempts to appeal for coverage, especially because of how much rehabilitation Stacy will need as her progress continues. Dale said they expect hundreds of thousands of dollars in expenses.

“You would hope for this not to happen to anyone,” he said. “I wouldn’t wish this on anyone. It’s tiring, it’s tiring. It’s hard.”

The appeal process is only one of their battles. Another is trying to carry on after such a drastic change.

Stacy’s sister, Kelly, is used to receiving a phone call and vulgar, but loving, text messages of made-up cuss words from her sister on her birthday. When Kelly turned 25 last Monday, she called her mom instead.

“I said to her, ‘I’m so sad ... I just miss Stacy so much,’” she said. “It’s so hard not to have my sister.”

Family bonds

Whenever a day is particularly hard for one family member, another is always there to pick them back up.

Kelly said her dad will call and vent to her whenever he needs.

Dale and Patricia said Kelly’s persistent positivity makes her the rock.

And they called Childers a guardian angel.

“He’s always right at her side,” Patricia said. “He still talks about wh en they’ll get married. He’s here for the long haul.”

Sundays bring everyone together. Childers’s parents, aunt and uncle usually stop by to share a meal with the Blakeslee family. On those days, they gather around Stacy to pray, which Patricia said is a strong source of support for the family.

Other family members, old friends and even co-workers stop by to show their support. Photos fill the shelves beside Stacy’s bed, along with hand-drawn pictures, including one from her three-year-old godson.

“We had a blessing of a healthy family,” Patricia said. “Now we have the blessing of friends and strangers who have reached out to help us. ... her story, I think, has touched a lot of people.”

Others still plan to reach out — the MSU Racing Club’s annual car show on Saturday will donate all of its proceeds to Stacy. During the fall, Kelly said a family friend is hoping to have a 5K run on MSU’s campus. Participants will be permitted to bring their dogs on the 5K.

Although donations are more scarce now, people are still giving whatever they can for Stacy, including their prayers.

“There are still people out there who care,” Dale said. “The world isn’t as bad as we make it out to be sometimes. It’s something to look forward to day-by-day.”

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