An avid biker pursuing a graduate degree in fine arts as a senior citizen, Tsehaye Hebert felt like she had mastered the art of aging—until she was struck down with a catastrophic illness in the spring of 2013.

After a month-long coma in a hospital, Hebert woke up on life support. Her children flew in from around the country to say goodbye to their mother while doctors suggested nursing homes where they could place Hebert.

“I knew that, typically, when people say you’re going to a nursing home, they don’t have a lot of faith you’ll come out intact,” said Hebert, a master of fine arts in writing candidate at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. “I was like, ‘OK, I guess this is it.'”

A performer, writer, teacher, and student, Hebert had plenty to live for.

Fortunately, Hebert’s children knew that patients have better long-term outcomes at rehabilitation hospitals than at nursing homes. They advocated for her to be accepted at Schwab Rehabilitation Hospital in North Lawndale.

Schwab admitted Hebert as an inpatient, where she would re-learn how to walk, regain motor functions, and more. Andrea Remick, a physical therapist, was in charge of Hebert’s care.

Every day from 9 a.m. to 3 or 4 p.m., Hebert worked with a team of physiatrists, or medical doctors who specialize in physical medicine and rehabilitation, for six weeks. She believes her success was made possible by the faithful commitment of her rehabilitation team at Schwab.

“Andrea and Linda [Offenbecher, an occupational therapist at Schwab] were always positive, always encouraging, and telling me, ‘You can do this,'” Hebert said.

The first time Hebert walked at Schwab, “it was like a scene from Rocky,” she said. “When I stood up and took the first few steps on the parallel bars, everyone started clapping and I started weeping. Everybody was so amazing.”

The next time Hebert stepped on a treadmill, she walked 12 feet. Next, she conquered 16 feet, then 32, then 64, then 100.

“When I was discharged [in June 2013] and living at home again, I was walking 2,000 square feet a day,” she says. “I just kept building on my success.”

Life today

After returning home in June, Hebert resumed classes at the Art Institute in August and traded her wheel chair for a walker, then a cane.

Today, Hebert is making a splash in the theatre industry. This past winter, she won the Kendeda National Graduate Playwriting Award, a national award for graduate student playwrights. Her play will run at Atlanta’s Alliance Theatre next spring.

Hebert continues to see physical therapists at Schwab. “I’m so grateful for what happened at Schwab. It is a place of possibility.”

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