When Levi Weber landed at Madonna Rehabilitation Hospitals’ Omaha campus this summer, he struggled to lift an ice chip to his mouth.
The 23-year-old showcased how far he’s come Friday with a two-song guitar performance for his care team at the facility.
“I still at times find myself being like, ‘How lucky am I to get to walk?’ Not only should I not be walking, but I shouldn’t be alive either,” Weber said.
Weber suffered 23 broken bones, a traumatic brain injury, multiple strokes and a host of other complications after a motorcycle crash in his hometown of Sioux City, Iowa, in June. He spent about 30 days in the intensive care unit of the local hospital before being transferred to Madonna locations in Lincoln and then Omaha.
Weber sat before more than 20 staff members Friday and a handful of patients in the facility’s main therapy gym. With the red strap of the guitar draped over his leg, Weber strummed the instrument and occasionally tapped his foot to the beat. After the performance, applause echoed through the sun-drenched room.
“Thanks for taking care of me and doing everything you guys have to do,” Weber told the audience. “That’s a tough job.”
Before the accident, Weber was headed to a family dinner to celebrate his father’s retirement. About five blocks from home, he was struck by a turning vehicle.
When he reached the hospital, his blood pressure, at 50 over 30, was extremely low. In addition to broken bones, there was significant damage to his pancreas.
Weber remained heavily sedated for about 30 days, said his mother, Cindy Weber.
“It was incredibly difficult. We just kept believing,” his mother said. “It was every parent’s worst nightmare, and it happened to us.”
By the end of Weber’s time in intensive care at the hospital, he had started to acknowledge others when he was spoken to. He spent a week at Madonna’s Lincoln campus in late June. He moved to the Omaha location in July.
“When he first got here, it hurt to move. Everything he did,” said occupational therapist Kayla Hoge. “He had to work through a lot of pain.”
In the first days, Weber worked on getting out of bed, getting dressed and getting to his wheelchair. He had to build strength to tackle basic tasks, like swallowing, walking and showering. By the end of September, Weber could walk unassisted. And by November, he was able to shower without help.
Weber was in and out of the facility at first, having to return to the hospital due to medical complications. Through the process, his attitude took a hit. It’s common that patients get frustrated with the rehab process, Hoge said.
“It’s hard for patients not to focus on what they can’t do. It’s our job to show them what they’re able to do,” she said.
Staff pushed Weber to keep working. He kept at learning basic skills, strengthening his legs and bettering his coordination. Tasks included lots of walking and tossing balls into a bucket. In the evenings, Hoge encouraged Weber to play guitar. It would help with coordination and hand strength. By the time he left the hospital in the fall, Weber could play bits and pieces of songs.
Weber went home Aug. 31. Now, he’s back to his old self, his mom said. He’s taken up guitar again and cooking. He makes a mean curry, his parents said. He’s also back to his favorite activity: glass blowing. Although now he needs more help than he did before — he has friends help to move the heavy equipment required for the job.
Weber plans to move out of his parents’ house and find a location for a larger glass blowing studio. And he’s going to get back on a motorcycle again, despite his mother’s concern.
On Friday, Weber carried his guitar case into the hospital and prepped his instruments in a hallway. The concert fulfilled the goal Weber had set over the course of his rehab. The whiteboard in his room displayed it: Come back and play guitar for my care team.
Being back at the hospital was a moving experience for the family.
As Weber strummed along before the crowd, his mother gently touched her husband Bill’s elbow and the two exchanged a smile. Then they turned back to watch their son finish his performance.
“We’ll forever be grateful,” Cindy Weber said. “It’s good for us all to be here. It’s a little bit of closure and catharsis.”