It was news that devastated the local community, as well as bluegrass lovers around the world. In August 2017, renowned banjo player and Canton resident Raymond Fairchild was seriously injured when his riding lawnmower overturned on him. The mower caused him to sustain lacerations, broken bones and a mild brain injury.
Fairchild was treated in the Neuro Intensive Care Unit at Mission Hospital for a couple of weeks, and was then transferred to CarePartners Rehabilitation Hospital to undergo physical therapy and occupational therapy for a few additional weeks. Thanks to the care he received at both locations, Fairchild has continued recovering and has been able to return to what he calls “his life,” which is pickin’ his banjo for audiences at his music house, the Maggie Valley Opry.
Keeping the Main Goal in Mind
The CarePartners therapists who worked with Fairchild, 79, were well aware of his goal to return to music, but before they could help him get there, they set much smaller goals for him – goals like bending over to tie his shoes.
“Many of our patients are starting over from scratch,” said Warren Yeisley, rehabilitation occupational therapist with CarePartners. “First thing each morning, we start them out working on all of the activities of daily living they would have in normal life – getting up, going to the bathroom, getting dressed, eating breakfast, taking a shower and so on.”
Fairchild’s primary area of rehabilitation was gaining the strength, mobility and coordination to walk again. His limitations were due primarily to a subdural hemorrhage in his brain and limited range of motion in his back, although Yeisley said that both cognitively and physically Fairchild was a good candidate for rehabilitation.
“Slow and steady is always best, and that’s how he progressed,” said Yeisley. “He did quite well with his therapy.”
While the rehabilitation CarePartners patients undergo seems basic, it can be quite rigorous for those who have experienced serious injuries or stroke. Yeisley said that patients have seven sessions a day of occupational therapy, physical therapy and speech therapy.
“They get to the end of their day and they’re pretty well tuckered out,” he said. “In acute care at the hospital, their needs are all medical and the therapy is minimal. But once they’re here, it flip flops. Although their medical needs are being met, it’s mostly all therapy, therapy, therapy.”
Fairchild said that, aside from having to get up so early each morning, he enjoyed his therapy. “I liked the way they taught me to walk. I liked the therapies and the bicycles,” he said. “They really spoiled me. I want to come back and see them when I’m walking better.”
Rehab Is Ultimately about People
Fairchild said that one of the reasons rehab was such a positive experience for him was the people he worked with. “They were great at CarePartners,” he said. “They took the best care of me; I couldn’t ask for no better.”
The feeling is mutual, according to Yeisley. “He worked hard, but it was also a lot of fun talking with him about traveling the world and all the different people he’s played with. He’s someone I wouldn’t have met otherwise, and that’s the great thing about this job: You meet people from all walks of life, and they’re all interesting folk.”
Of course, it isn’t just CarePartners Fairchild credits for being instrumental in his recovery. He has high praise for Mission Hospital, too. “I think Mission is the greatest hospital there is,” he said. “I’m so glad we have a place like that close by in western North Carolina.”
Yeisley said the continuum of care between Mission and CarePartners is designed to work seamlessly, both on the front end, when patients are being admitted into the rehabilitation hospital, and on the back end, when they’re being released to skilled nursing, assisted living or their own homes.
“We have a number of liaisons on all the floors at Mission, talking with case managers there to see who’s appropriate for rehab and lining up all the info for our docs,” said Yeisley. “Then, after a patient has been under our care for an appropriate amount of time, and we think they’re safe to leave, we help ensure a smooth transition to their next caregiver. In Mr. Fairchild’s case, he had progressed enough to safely return to his own home, with his wife caregiving for the few things he was still not able to do independently.”
Back to Pickin’
Fairchild is still recovering. Weakness in his right arm and leg has made relearning to walk a slow process. But he is building his stamina – particularly for his return to stage. “I may not be 100 percent yet, but I’ll be good enough to perform again,” he said.
“That was one of his big goals all along, and it really is a big one,” said Yeisley. “It takes a lot of endurance to play even a 30-minute set. And remembering the music can take a lot of mental strength.”
Fairchild’s assessment of his recovery is positive. Following Memorial Day, he will be playing seven nights a week at his Maggie Valley Opry. “I’m doing pretty good,” he said. “Still weak, but beginning to do things on my own. Playing was awkward for a while, but I’m getting back on that. I’m so thankful for the folks at CarePartners. They’re really fine people – you couldn’t ask for no greater people.”
Warren Yeisley is a rehabilitation occupational therapist with CarePartners.