On October 30th, the Northeast Region of the Department of Disability Services recognized individuals and their supporters who have worked together to achieve a significant accomplishment. Three CHS teams were nominated and recognized for accomplishing goals that were particularly meaningful to the individual served. Below are their stories.

With support from Melissa, Mike’s transition from living in a skilled nursing facility for five years restored his life.

Mike & Melissa’s Story
Prior to his accident, Mike was a talented carpenter and musician, a nature lover and a big fisherman – his life was quite fulfilling. That changed unexpectedly on one holiday evening, when Mike and his brother left his father’s house and were struck by a drunk driver. Mike’s injuries were substantial and life changing. He was left with severe nerve damage, and an inability to take care of himself. He recuperated at Tewksbury State Hospital for 6 years and then transitioned into the community and was welcomed into our newly constructed Acquired Brain Injury home in Tewksbury.

When Mike arrived, he was not speaking, not interested in eating, not walking and not participating in his rehabilitation. Mike was very easily agitated and frustrated. Melissa Murphy, Program Director of our new ABI home, was determined to understand Mike, connect with him and support him in the new environment he now calls home. 

Melissa recognized early on that Mike’s family would need to be the historian and the voice on his behalf, sharing his likes/dislikes, preferences, hobbies, etc. Mike’s sister Pam stayed at the ABI house from 9am-9pm for several months to model for the staff how to care for her brother. Pam was incredibly close to Mike, and wanted to be the best sister she could for him. Near the end of her life, Pam asked Melissa to step in and be a sister to Mike when she couldn’t be. 

Melissa has created an environment of trust, love and support for Mike and his family. Mike’s father is now 82. He has lost 4 children and his wife in just 5 years, and continues to support his son through a horrific life- threatening accident. Each week Mike’s sister provides dinner for the entire ABI house – a roast beef sandwich for Mike and pizza for everyone else – it’s the best delivery of the week! 

Melissa continues to speak with family regularly. She learned early in their relationship that Mike liked music, specifically David Gray. After several unsuccessful attempts to connect with Mike, she decided she needed to try new things.

One weekday evening, she was preparing dinner for the residents and her team. She always enjoys listening to music while cooking.  One of the oldies came on the radio – Neil Young’s ‘Old Man.’ Melissa was singing as she often did, and heard a voice behind her. When she turned around, she found Mike softly singing. Melissa approached Mike in the kitchen, and they sang the entire song together. She now knew that music was their connector.  

Once Mike began singing, Melissa knew he was capable of more than just singing. She worked with him daily on speaking: starting with asking questions and expecting verbal responses: Burger or meatloaf for dinner? What holiday is in October – Halloween or Thanksgiving? These prompts continued to keep Mike talking, and helped to rebuild his memory.

From the beginning, when Mike would swear or become agitated, he and Melissa agreed they would have a goal of working on “kindness.” When she put her hand gently on his shoulder (when he would swear) Melissa would ask “ what are we working on?” His response was always, “kindness and I am sorry. “ He now recognizes when he is frustrated and is able to acknowledge his actions.

When Mike moved to Pine Street, Melissa applied for a fishing license so he could fish again. After several attempts, Mike now fishes frequently at Lowell Boulevard.

Mike wasn’t able to walk when he arrived at CHS. But with music in the background, and a supportive team by his side, over the course of several months, Mike learned to walk down the hallway – maxing at 50 feet at one time.

Once Mike started to achieve some of these new milestones, Mike and Melissa drove into Boston for a Neil Young concert. This may seem like an everyday occurrence for most people – but this was BIG! Not only for Mike, but for the entire support staff and family. A new chapter was opening…

The many achievements – talking, walking, gaining confidence and comfort outside of the house and in large crowds have helped Mike to overcome the obstacles that are his reality. Trusting Melissa and the team supporting him has allowed Mike to start living his life again, on his terms.

Melissa has learned many lessons from her experiences with Mike over the last several years. First and foremost, make room in your heart when caring for someone to love them as if they are your family. When you take care of someone as a “patient, room number or a job”, you have no impact on their life and they will have no impact on yours. 

Losing both of your parents, a foreclosure on your family home, and no job in the same year can be devastating to anyone.  Mat and Charlie took one day at a time rebuilding Charlie’s life,
and the results are amazing.

Charlie & Mat’s Story Mat and Charlie have been working together since February of 2018. At the time Charlie was referred to the Cooperative for Human Services, he had been dealing with the loss of his father in January of 2017 and his mother in September of 2017. He was living in his family home, which was in the process of foreclosure, he was unemployed and had accumulated significant debt. Charlie was suffering from poorly-treated, uncontrolled diabetes, untreated anxiety disorder and was not taking his medications correctly. His attending physician was refusing to see Charlie until he resumed psychiatric treatment and was placed in appropriate DDS supported housing.

To cope with anxiety, Charlie was using visit to the Emergency room as a way to assist himself. From January through May of 2018, Charlie had been to the Emergency room 37 times, none of the visits stemming from an actual medical condition. Mat first started by developing a trusting relationship with Charlie. This wasn’t easy, as Charlie did not trust readily. But Mat was persistent and followed through consistently on everything he
said he would. While Mat was developing a relationship with Charlie, Mat also began to develop relationships with the other people in Charlie’s life, particularly his two cousins. Mat was able to assist them in communicating with Charlie in a way that lowered Charlie’s anxiety.

Together, Charlie and Mat worked on reducing Charlie’s debt. His cousin was able to pay off the home’s mortgage, but Charlie would still need to pay for water, house insurance and property taxes. Reducing his debt would allow him to pay these expenses, giving him the gift of remaining in the family home. Mat applied a multi-pronged approach to teaching Charlie about his budget with the use of multiple visuals. Charlie also allowed CHS to apply to be his Representative Payee for his Social Security benefits. Mat and Charlie began to utilize the local food pantry, Open Table, in Maynard which saved Charlie money and provided him with a meal and a place to volunteer.

Although it’s been difficult, Charlie has learned to manage his budget
(most of the time). Charlie and Mat also found a job for Charlie. He obtained employment at a local brewery in January of 2019, where he is able to walk or ride his bike to work. They are currently working on how to use his paycheck to pay down his debts and of course, have a little fun money.

Mat and Charlie have also been working on making healthy choices when it comes to food. Charlie’s blood sugar had become more stable and he is feeling healthier. He is logging his blood sugar consistently and sharing the results with his doctor, who is quite pleased with his progress. Over the past 18 months, Charley has learned to better manage his emotions and communicate his feelings. He no longer has to utilize the ER for non-emergency situations.

The last time Charlie was in the ER was July 4th , which is a far cry from the 37 visits in four months back in first half of 2018. Charlie has learned to use his words in a way that allows him to communicate what he doesn’t
like and to negotiate for things he wants. Charlie has learned that he has someone he can rely on and call when things are not going well. He knows that Mat will assist him to get through whatever life has thrown at him.

What happens when you commit to waking up at 5am daily to walk a 72 acre farm? Ionannis and John are recognized by Commission Jane Ryder
for their results.

John & Ionannis’s Story Ionannis is a live-in manager at a home with 5 adult men with Autism. One of the men, John C. was seriously overweight and struggling with associated health risks. 

After spending time getting to know the men and building a relationship of trust, Ionannis recognized that he needed to help John get healthier so that he could live a long, healthy life. 

To guide John, Ionannis modeled healthy living choices and talked with John frequently about taking better care of himself. They agreed that for his well-being, John needed to loose at least 100 lbs. But Ionannis agreed that he himself also needed to lose some weight so they agreed to lose it together. The men started by walking the 72-acre property where they live on a daily basis: one hour each morning and one hour each evening. They created a chart to track John’s progress, and within 20 months, John hit his goal of 100 pounds lost. 

There were a few barriers encountered, particularly during the last several months leading up to the goal. Keeping John motivated was challenging because his medications and Day Program can tire him, and in his spare time, he enjoys relaxation. John is very forgetful, unless it is about your dog’s name, age and birthday. Continuous reminders about the walking schedule and motivating him on hot/cold days was challenging, but manageable. And, because he was excited when he lost weight, he knew that he was getting his body healthy which is important for his life. Home weekend visits are always exciting for John. We did identify through weighing before and after the weekend visits that John didn’t make healthy choices. This was evidenced pretty regularly by a 7-10lb weight gain after the weekend. 

Today, John is more confident and his attitude changes when he goes to the doctors. He likes getting acknowledged by his doctor for the good work he is doing. He expresses pride and shares his story with friends, family and other CHS staff when he sees them. Physically, John’s health has improved dramatically – he is more alert and active during the day, sleeps better, and because of the weight loss, his snoring has declined a few decibels in the house so everyone is resting better! 

Because of this dramatic change, John’s meds were reduced significantly or eliminated. Blood sugar previously taken daily in house is now checked at the 3 month physical/checkup. And, with his new found confidence and stamina, John now enjoys exercising and attends the local YMCA 3x/week where he walks on the treadmill, lifts weights and swims in the pool.

Additionally, John and all of the folks at the North Reading home eat healthy meals everyday. With Ionannis being a great chef, he enjoys using the fresh herbs, veggies and eggs from our farm to create delicious and healthy meals. He has educated and modeled how healthy food and regular exercise can be easily incorporated into everyday choices and lifestyle. 

Ionannis wasn’t sure which approach to take to successfully motivate John to get healthy. He decided that being a ‘parental figure’ could be effective, and we agree. Ionannis has cared for John with unconditional love, support and motivation. Their bond is strong and undeniable. 

An old Greek proverb that Ionannis sited when summarizing the accomplishment with John was: ‘ Do good and throw it in the sea’ when translated means do a good deed and let nobody know about it. John is very humble, and he views this experience as part of his job. In the end, we recognize him for going above and beyond –that is why Ionannis is being nominated.