Bonnie's story

Photo of Bonnie Weil with therapists at Kessler Institute for Rehabilitation.

Photo of Bonnie Weil with therapists on a therapeutic outing.. Bonnie Weil, 43, has always been a bright light to those around her. When she is not taking care of her family or supporting her community, the mother of five enjoys gardening, baking elaborate cakes and sharing her love of crafts and reading with her children. She was not going to let anything dim that light – not even a brain injury.

In 2023, Bonnie began to experience chest pains and went into cardiac arrest. She was rushed to the emergency room. She experienced a brain injury from a lack of oxygen to her brain and had medical complications including being in a coma. With her husband Bob by her side, she spent over two months at AtlantiCare Regional Medical Center where she required a feeding tube and tracheostomy to help her breathe. Once stabilized, Bonnie required specialized rehabilitative care to regain her lost strength and independence.

She and her family chose Kessler Institute for Rehabilitation (KIR) – Marlton for the next phase of her recovery. When she arrived, Bonnie required assistance to move and walk, even to sit up or get in and out of bed. Loss of strength and control in her legs and the inability to stretch out her right arm made it difficult to complete daily activities on her own. She also experienced cognitive impairments including the inability to sustain attention to specific activities, recall familiar memories including her children’s names and remember new information beyond 15 seconds. Cortical blindness also impaired her ability to see and read.

The physician-led rehabilitation team at KIR – Marlton worked with Bonnie and Bob to put a treatment plan in place. In the beginning, she felt her biggest challenge was her vision and the emotional impact of losing her ability to walk. Bonnie’s main goals were to be able to use the bathroom with assistance, begin walking and remember personal information. In order for Bonnie to achieve these goals, it would require physical, occupational, recreational and speech therapy.

With strengthening exercises, Bonnie began to make gains early in her stay with the removal of her breathing tube and the ability to transfer to the toilet. In physical therapy, she focused on improving her balance, endurance and mobility by using the tilt table and mechanical lift to help her stand, propelling her wheelchair over various surfaces, walking on a body-weight supported treadmill and climbing stairs. Climbing the stairs represented a “return to freedom” for her in her home.

Her occupational therapists focused on improving the strength in her legs and right arm and they taught her adaptive strategies to complete daily activities on her own. Using assistive devices, they had her practice transferring in and out and reaching while in her wheelchair, doing yoga poses, completing bathing and dressing activities and pushing a shopping cart. Participating in group meditation was one of her favorite activities.

In speech therapy, Bonnie participated in vision exercises to improve her functional reading ability and worked on multiple exercises to sharpen her language, cognitive and memory skills.
Bonnie’s family played an integral part in motivating her participation in therapy. Bob attended her daily therapy sessions and participated in Kessler’s family education training to ensure a safe transition home.

After six weeks at Kessler, Bonnie was able to propel her wheelchair with supervision, transfer in and out of the car, toilet with minimal support, walk with the aid of a walker and climb stairs. She also met her goal of remembering her children’s names, along with improving her ability to recall past and recent events. Her attention to cognitive demands and vision improved – she was able to fixate on and locate objects around her, distinguish between colors and pictures, identify her children’s faces in photos and even read some functional words.

During Bonnie’s last week at Kessler, she participated in an outing to a local store with her husband and recreational and speech therapists, her first re-entry into the community in 15 weeks. During the outing Bonnie enjoyed shopping, but also worked on cognitive communication goals.

Throughout her stay, Bob felt Bonnie’s rehabilitation team excelled at meeting her physical and emotional needs and was “in tune to what she needed.” He felt each team member was “vested in her success and made sure she had the right tools to achieve her goals – from those that supported her in therapy to those that transported her, maintained her room and delivered her meals.”

He added, “As evidence of this support, everyone knew Bonnie. She would be stopped in the hall by multiple staff members on a daily basis to day hello, give a hug or offer encouragement.”
Bonnie planned to continue to build on her gains to not only “talk and walk better,” but to get back to “everything in her life” – from reading to her kids to grocery shopping to going to the boardwalk and eating pizza.

Bonnie offered this advice to other brain injury survivors: “Just keep going because it gets better.”

Her therapists could not be more proud of her success and feel fortunate to have been a part of the journey of this “exceptional patient and family.” One of her therapists said, “At Kessler, we are all ‘Team Bonnie.’"

Regarding her recovery journey, Bob said, “This has exceeded my expectations for what I thought for us. And it’s nowhere near done.”