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Graduate Family Shares Their Knowledge, Connection

April 12, 2021

Mike Olson jokes that he is just a “few credits short” of becoming an honorary physical therapist.

After his wife, LaDonna, sustained a brain injury following a stroke, Mike spent hours upon hours attending therapies and activities with her.

“I wanted to be there as much as possible so that I could learn everything,” says Mike. “I knew that I would need to help LaDonna continue to navigate through her injury, and I’m so grateful that the therapists taught me and our daughter, Ashley, so much.”

Now the couple are sharing the tips and techniques they learned with others in the Craig community and beyond.

During her initial weeks in rehab, LaDonna was emotional and exhausted. She was completely paralyzed on the right half of her body and had trouble speaking.

Mike, a senior manager at Wells Fargo, was able to work remotely during LaDonna’s inpatient stay, conducting his work in empty conference rooms at Craig and attending her therapy as he was able to and especially the required therapy sessions. His manager, peers, and team supported his schedule to make this possible. LaDonna credits his support, as well as the optimism of her doctors and therapists with getting her moving. She soon began to make steady strides.

“I hadn’t had great experiences with doctors in the past,” she says. “But at Craig, everyone genuinely wanted to push me to the next level.”

As her rehabilitation progressed, the couple began participating in Therapeutic Recreation. Mike appreciated the opportunity to learn how to help LaDonna navigate in the community with her new mobility challenges. “All those things would have been incredibly stressful if she hadn’t experienced it with the experts from Craig and been able to ask questions.”

The Olson family at Hobie Day

Mike and LaDonna were so grateful for what they learned that they wanted to help other families. Pre-pandemic, they would hang around the cafeteria and bistros in Craig after late afternoon visits for LaDonna’s outpatient and PEAK Center sessions to develop relationships with other families. Mike joined the Peer Mentor program, and they frequently attended the monthly peer dinners. LaDonna, Ashley, and son-in-law James made and delivered cookies to patients and staff members on holidays. They are also active in the outpatient Brain Injury Support Group.

Taking their advocacy a step farther, Mike coordinated two informational sessions at Wells Fargo to educate their employees about brain and spinal cord injuries and to enable a greater understanding of these challenges as a co-worker, manager, and community member. Craig employees Chris Ravotti and Lenore Hawley joined Mike to give attendees an overview of the challenges individuals with brain and spinal injuries face in their journey at home and in the workplace. The two sessions reached several hundred leaders and employees and the materials were leveraged by leaders for additional conversations in staff meetings.

“These injuries often have unseen elements,” says Mike. “But for some people, it’s as if they’ve already run a marathon before they even get to work in the morning. I hope to help our employees empathize with them in an understanding way.”

LaDonna continues her therapy at the PEAK Center weekly, and the couple is back to “nature therapy,” enjoying the mountains on a utility terrain vehicle (UTV). They, along with Mike’s sister, have even assisted the Therapeutic Recreation department with mapping trails suitable for patient outings, as a UTV has been donated to that department by a supporter who is personally committed to getting people back to recreating in nature.

According to Chris Ravotti, the UTV “is a great way to get current and former patients out in nature, and will aid those who need to utilize a UTV to get back to ranching and farming occupations, hunting and fishing.”

“We know that LaDonna wouldn’t be where she is without Craig,” says Mike. “We’re tremendously grateful to have had the experience, and we’ll do anything to help others who are walking the same path. All at Craig are incredibly supportive getting folks back to life.”