Friday, March 19, 2010

March 19, 3:00, mark

Hello everyone,

I'm writing today from the Shepherd Center in Atlanta, where I've been with Joe and Ginny for the last few days. The visit has been a powerful experience, on many different levels.

So many thoughts are jumbling around in my mind, it's difficult to sort them out and pass them on in a coherent way, but all of you friends and family want --and deserve -- to know how things are going, so here are few of my impressions:

1.) First, at the risk of sounding overly gloomy, I've been strongly reminded of the severity of Joe's injuries, and the long and difficult road that lies ahead for him, Ginny, and the boys. So too, I'm moved to urge all of you dear friends, neighbors, colleagues, and family members who have been supporting them in such remarkably generous ways, to understand the need to continue that assistance, including most importantly your prayers of support, for the long term as well.

I hope you won't misunderstand me -- there is ample reason for optimism. We continue to believe that Joe can and will make a full or nearly-full recovery. He has made truly impressive strides, in countless ways, in just these five weeks that have passed since the shooting. He can stand with support; he can verbalize and interact -- usually in a coherent manner -- with family and caretakers; on many occasions, we get to see and hear flashes of his brilliant intellectual abilities, his strong and uniquely positive personality, and his great sense of humor. All of these achievements seemed almost unimaginable five weeks ago, and we have every reason to believe that the progress will continue.

But despite what he has already accomplished, Joe is literally having to relearn hundreds of mental and physical skills and behaviors that we take for granted -- from how to swallow his food to how to control the movement of his legs and arms, and everything in between. Perhaps one of the best metaphors for the process, which someone suggested to Lisa, is to think of Joe's mind and body as a deck of cards that have been scattered, and now he is working to collect all the cards and restack them in the correct order. It is a long and painstaking process, and the bottom line is that we are still a long way from having the Joe that we all know and love "back" with us in the fullest sense of that term. I guess I wanted to convey that fundamental (and perhaps obvious) observation to all of you as gently, but firmly, as I can.

2.) I have been so impressed by the efforts of the staff of professionals here at Shepherd, and their dedication to Joe's recovery. Every hospital stay brings its share of uncertainties, frustrations, and anxieties for patients and their families, but the personnel here -- like the doctors, nurses, and EMTs who saved Joe's life in Huntsville -- have shown truly astonishing levels of skill, dedication, perseverance, and patience in their work with Joe. It has been both humbling and inspiring to watch.

3.) I've been blown away by Joe's attitude and strength. As mentioned before, he is being asked to do things, and to relearn basic bodily functions and behaviors, that would be difficult for anyone to accept and put up with even under the best of circumstances, and yet he has been unfailingly cooperative and congenial in all of the interactions I've observed. He has not given in to pity or frustration but rather, whenever he's awake and responsive, he truly is "charging on" and working extremely hard at all of his rehabilitation tasks.

4.) Finally, and perhaps most significantly, it's almost impossible for me to express how proud and impressed I've been by Ginny. She is the very epitome of a "steel magnolia" -- gentle, gracious, and kind to all, but fiercely protective of Joe's interests and uniquely competent in dealing with the overwhelming medical, family, financial, and bureaucratic details that confront her 24/7. Her interactions with Joe are a beautiful thing to watch -- loving, patient, determined -- she always seems to know what to say and how to say it so as to encourage him and help him move forward. It's been a remarkable and inspiring privilege to see her in operation, and I've learned lessons from her that I hope I'll never forget about facing adversity with grace.

On the purely medical front, yesterday (Thursday) was a really good day, full of lots of activity and progress -- Joe ate the most "solid" food (actually pureed) he had ever taken in and did well in his therapy sessions. He was mentally sharp for the most part, and quite talkative during some of the day -- he was "on point" with me on several different topics, including the NCAA basketball tournament games, and he stayed awake and alert well into the early evening, which was a improvement from the prior days, when he got sleepy and inactive from late afternnon on.

Today, frankly, has been not so good. Joe was heavily congested and distressingly "wheezy" this morning, which was alarming for us, and then there was a malfunction of his call button that compounded the problem. The nurses and technicians have suctioned his trach tube several times, and he has been a good deal more lethargic than usual. His primary doctor ordered a new chest X-ray, which came back "OK but not great" -- his lungs were not as clear as they had been a few days earlier, so she ordered no more therapy for the rest of the day, opting for bed rest to allow him to get his wind back. His blood labs were fine, showing no signs of infection, but pneumonia is still an outside risk so they are taking precautions against that. He's to be seen by a respiratory specialist this afternoon for further analysis. It's possible that they might put him back on the respirator for awhile to help clear his lungs.

That's it for now. Thanks for putting up with the length of this message and, on behalf of the entire family, as always, thanks so much for all the continuing support.

I'm proudly wearing my UAH shirt today so, to all of you .... Charge On,



  1. Thanks so much for the update, y'all keep up the faith, the love and your spirits...I will keep praying for you. :)

  2. Thank you for taking the time, Mark. We all know the chances of setbacks are always there, but we are praying they are few and far between. Ginny, we love you and the boys, and we are praying hard everyday!

  3. Thank you for your updates. Joe, Ginny, the boys, and their whole family are truly amazing. We pray for and think about Joe and Ginny numerous times during each day. You all have our full support and we love you all dearly.

    Lisa, Chase and Riley

  4. Thank you so much for this update. I check in every day looking for your news. It really helps to be connected in this way. I pray for Joe and all of you every day. And I share the news w/ my family and my friends and students (piano). There must be many many people following your blog who haven't even met Joe or Ginny before, and there are many more who receive these updates second-hand, and we're all praying for/with you!

    Yes, there will be set-backs, but please, 'let not your hearts be discouraged'!!! Jesus has over-come the world! And Joe w/ all his supporters is over-coming challenges most of us could never imagine. Always be strong in your faith! And when you can't, please know you have a whole 'cloud of witnesses' supporting you in prayer. When you feel discouragement, at least remember the Lord is carrying you; Joe and everyone; the Lord is carrying us! I love your motto "charge on!" And know that you have a multitude of loving supporters w/ you!!!!!!
    The Lord bless you and keep you!!!! <3 ~ MaryLouise

  5. As the mom of a 21-year old daughter who suffered a closed head injury when she was a teenager, I can only say that patience and time brings much healing. Even today, six years after the event, I still see progress. It actually took 18 months for her brain to shake off the fog, and for her to be able to read again with ease. (She hit her occipital lobe). Only God knows why we are called to take these journeys. But, I believe he journeys with us. Joe is fortunate to have you all by his side. As someone posted earlier, you also have a lot of people out here who have never met any of you. But we're all praying and sending our support.

    Happy Spring!

  6. Mark, Thank you so much for your beautiful words and insights. You are all going through so much and the roller coaster of emotions must be very daunting, especially in that it is just beginning.

    Your recognition of Joe and Ginny's strengths and grace is so beautiful and encouraging to all of us who love them. I enjoyed spending time with Lisa and all of Joe and Ginny's family when they were here. I hope I will have the opportunity to meet you one day. Thanks. Cindy

  7. I'm a UT alum who found this blog from a mom message board - pulling for Alabama!!

    Seriously, please know that I stopped to pray for Dr. Leahy's recovery and for his friends and family.


  8. Mark, thank you for the heart warming, insightful update. Our continued prayers are with Dr Joe, Ginny and family members. Although we have not met in person, we "feel His strength and love" for Dr. Joe's healing.
    Frank and Marion Defalco

  9. Mark, We so appreciate this update & understand how difficult it must be to write this while keeping up with everything else. You are all blessed to have one another. Love & prayers.
    Lisa Fox

  10. We continue to pray for the Leahy Family. I look forward to meeting you all once the "Joe you know" is back. :) - Kristin from UAH


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