Logan McDonald reported for duty as a U.S. Marine in October 2011. A month later, the then 18-year-old recruit from Mississippi was in a coma.
He had sustained a severe brain injury from viral encephalitis, which doctors believe was transmitted by a random insect bite. The brain injury resulted in cognitive, communicative, physical, and neuropsychiatric impairments. McDonald could not walk. He required assistance completing a majority of daily tasks and demonstrated severe communication deficits. He had trouble recalling information.
Thus began a three-year journey through a series of medical facilities. As McDonald crisscrossed the country bouncing from one rehab facility to another, some doctors advised the family that the young man in the Marine T-shirt was destined for a lifetime spent in assisted living facilities.
That’s when his grandmother, Anita Loper, found Quality Living, Inc., the Omaha non-profit that for two decades has raised the bar by working with individuals and families whose lives have been affected by brain injury or spinal cord injury.
“I just couldn’t picture him in some assisted living place forever,” says Loper, a retired nurse. “He’s always been such an independent person. He wouldn’t even let me wait with him when I dropped him off to report to camp. ‘I’ll be okay, Grandma,’ he said.”
McDonald is now inching his way to regaining his independence through QLI’s non-traditional, industry-changing rehabilitation programs.
By any measure, Loper says, McDonald has made remarkable progress at QLI. He now needs little if any help in tasks that once required round-the-clock assistance—showering, dressing, fixing breakfast.
“Now I come to visit and I can’t even find him because he’s out socializing with his friends here,” Loper chuckles as a broad grin spreads across McDonald’s face and his cheeks redden ever so slightly.
“That’s been our only problem with Logan,” says Taylor Kerschke, QLI’s coordinator of speech therapy services, tongue planted firmly in cheek. “He’s quite the ladies man.”
Cue a full-blown, rosiest of blushes now for the man in the Marine T-Shirt.
“Logan is a resilient young man who is completely engaged in every aspect of his rehab program,” says QLI president and CEO Patricia Kearns. “His program underlines QLI’s individualized approach to brain injury rehabilitation. Logan’s therapies are rigorous and specifically tailored to his personal goals and passions, and they are designed to ensure he will get back on a path in life that is meaningful to him.”
That path for McDonald, adds Kerschke, is independence. “Logan is only 21 and has his whole life ahead of him. The aim is to have Logan live with the least amount of assistance possible and we are relentless in doing everything we can to make that happen. We want him to be able to do the things he is passionate about.”
One of those passions, Loper explains, is McDonald’s love of the outdoors.
“Big…big…bass,” are the words that McDonald struggles to find as he gestures, holding his hands far apart to indicate that he landed a whopper on a recent QLI fishing trip.
McDonald’s forays into the wilds have also been facilitated by a gift from the Semper Fi Fund, a non-profit organization founded and coordinated by the spouses of injured and wounded Marines. McDonald’s high-tech Action Trackchair, something of a cross between a traditional wheelchair and something you’d see in the Transformers movie series, allows him a once unthinkable range of mobility. QLI has since acquired their own Action Trackchair, a gift from Steve Hornady, the CEO of Nebraska-based ammunition manufacturer Hornady Manufacturing.
“My goal is to set Logan up for success for independent living. That’s why we’re here,” says Loper, who has been living in Omaha throughout McDonald’s stay at QLI. “Much of the mindset of the medical community—even in the V.A. community—is that there are few gains to be made after a year in rehab. People hit a plateau, they told us. We couldn’t accept that. We knew there had to be more. We’ve found it here at QLI.”