PAGE – For most adults, movies are just far-fetched stories and fairy tales are make believe. But some love stories really do have made-for-Hollywood endings.
That’s the case for Diane and Lee Wade, who renewed their marriage vows on their 35th anniversary this past year. But those years haven’t come without their obstacles.
The trouble began when Diane's oldest sister was diagnosed with muscular dystrophy and a biopsy proved the disease was in their genes.The affected siblings started showing symptoms shortly thereafter, and Diane was in her 30s when the disease finally caught up with her.
"I ended up having a baby. I was able to carry him and get up off the floor and stuff,” she says. “It was probably '89 when I started showing more of the effects of (muscular dystrophy)."
Thankfully, Diane always had Lee as her caregiver… until he couldn’t be.
A bizarre accident
On April 9, 2014, Lee was helping Diane by hauling boxes on a utility cart into church.
"He was holding onto the door with one hand and walking backwards pulling the cart with the other hand,” Diane recalls. “The cart hit the door and his hand slipped off the handle and he fell backwards. He hit his head on the cement of the floor of the church."
Unconscious for 3 to 4 minutes, Lee finally came to. Feeling fine, he attempted to get up but an off-duty nurse told him to stay laying down until the ambulance arrived. While Lee remained talking during the ride, paramedics decided to order a life-flight intercept.
"When my son and I went down to the emergency room, the doctor said, 'We'll keep him overnight and see how things are in the morning,’ ” Diane says. “But overnight, things went downhill quickly."
A previous diagnosis of bronchitis progressed to pneumonia with the traumatic brain injury and Lee was hospitalized for two weeks before being sent to Vibra Hospital for an additional six weeks for long-term acute care. Lee was then moved to a nursing home in Fargo.
During that time, life radically changed for Diane.
"My mom had to come over and help take care of me – get in and out of bed, all that kind of stuff,” Diane says of her mother who was 79 years old at the time.
The community of Page quickly rallied around the couple.
"They raised funds so I could get a ceiling track put in my house so I was able to stay by myself,” Diane says. “I learned how to use the track system so I could get in and out of bed and whatever I needed to do."
A local teacher drove Diane the hour to Fargo to visit Lee every Monday. Friends and family would help her make the trip a second time each week.
Fighting for recovery
Momentary breakdowns and feelings of utter helplessness weren’t uncommon.
“They told me he'd spend the rest of his life with a feeding tube and that's how he would eat,” Diane says. “I started making food at home, grinding it up and pureeing it. I would take food down to him two or three times a week. Now he's eating anything he wants to."
When the nursing home didn’t seem to be providing the therapy Lee desperately needed, his family implemented their own tactics.
"My son took a board and added some nuts and bolts. My husband was a farmer so nuts and bolts were something that was common to him. It was something he would physically work on – tightening or loosening the bolts,” Diane recalls.
One day after Diane broke down at the hospital, Lee grabbed her hand and said, “Honey, we're going to be okay,' " Diane recalls. "From that day on, I knew I was going to fight for all it was worth to get him better."
Though sending Lee to Rehab4Life helped, Diane says that therapy didn’t carry over in the nursing homes. That’s when she knew she had to get her husband home.
The road home
When the Wades first bought their home 15 years ago, handicap accessibility was one of the draws for Diane.
“Little did we know it would come in handy for him also," she says.
However, changes would still have to be made to get Lee home. As an Army veteran, Lee qualified for financial assistance that made the doorways wider and added extra ceiling track throughout the home. She lined up a caregiver through Cass County Social Services who would check in on Lee three times a day.
Finally, on Jan. 22, Lee came home.
“It was 1,384 days from the day of Lee's accident to the day we brought him home – or 3 years, 9 months and 13 days. But who was counting?” Diane says.
After his first night at home, Diane was surprised to find Lee knew where he was in the morning.
“Are you glad to be home?” she asked.
“You have no idea,” he replied, without missing a beat.
Though the two sleep in different bedrooms due to equipment, Diane says, “To be able to lay in the next room and hear him snoring, it was music to my ears to know he was finally home."
Coping at home
March marks Brain Injury Awareness Month. Many will gather on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., for a congressional briefing and reception to raise awareness on March 20.
Closer to home, Diane hopes to raise awareness herself.
"It was hard leaving him (at the hospital),” Diane says. “The hardest part was not many people understood the brain injury. That’s the one thing I'm really trying to be an advocate for."
With Lee’s injury, Diane quickly recognized how little people know about interacting with brain injury patients.
"When you ask someone with a brain injury to do something, they can't comprehend that right away. It takes them awhile to understand what you're saying,” she says.
Today, Lee is still working on recovery.
"It's coming back. Even since he's been home in a little over two weeks, we've already noticed how much things are getting better for him,” Diane says. “He's shown me – if given the time to learn things – he can do it. I'm not giving up.”