James' Story

Headshot of James Weiss

After 35 years as a firefighter, James Weiss retired, putting that dangerous work behind him. He began a second career as a welder but, as it turned out, danger followed him.

James was on the job one day when suddenly, a 400-pound steel wall came crashing down on him. His co-workers rushed to his aid, lifting the metal sheet off of him. He was medevacked to St. Joseph’s Medical Center, where he underwent emergency surgery for injuries to his internal organs. A tracheostomy, the insertion of a tube into his windpipe, was performed to help him breathe. James also sustained a traumatic brain injury and was placed in a medically induced coma for nearly two weeks to help his brain heal.

When he emerged, James was unable to sit, stand or walk, feed himself or speak, but he was stable and anxious to begin the long road to recovery. He and his wife, Sofia, chose Kessler Institute. Despite his extensive injuries, James was optimistic. “My goal was to get to be the man I was before the accident.” To do that, James worked with a team of rehabilitation specialists: doctors who oversaw his medical progress; nurses who managed his medications and overall care needs; dietitians who addressed his dietary needs; and physical, occupational and speech therapists who helped restore his skills.

It wasn’t easy. James participated in at least three hours of therapy each day, rebuilding his strength, balance and abilities. In both physical and occupational therapy sessions, he benefitted from hands-on treatment, as well as the use of computer-based technologies and gait training. Likewise, in speech therapy, with the breathing tube removed, James tirelessly performed exercises to enhance his speech and improve his cognitive skills, learning the strategies to help communicate his thoughts and ideas more clearly.

James knew he had turned the corner when he was able to walk with a walker on his own and eat solid foods again. “My therapists never let me back down. The stronger I got, the better I felt,” he said. James also credited Sofia and their four children for their constant support and encouragement.

Upon discharge, James planned to continue to build on the gains he made as an outpatient at Kessler. When asked about his rehabilitation experience, James described it in one word – “unbelievable.”

He added, “I was dead. St. Joseph’s offered me life, but Kessler offered me a way of life.