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BJC Home Care staff helps patient regain his independence

Once a star athlete in high school and college, Cortez Ward has faced a number of serious medical challenges over the past several years -- and, today, he uses a wheelchair to get around. 
 It's been limiting at times, even causing him to miss out on important events and appointments. Thanks to the efforts of a BJC Home Care nurse, however, Ward has regained his sense of independence.

Ward graduated from East Side High School, now East St. Louis Senior High School, in East St. Louis, Illinois, in 1972. He played football throughout his high school years and was named to the Metro East All State, All Conference team. A fullback, he received many scholarship offers and ultimately chose the University of Pittsburgh. 

After graduating from college, Ward was drafted by the Cincinnati Bengals. While reviewing salary and insurance paperwork with the team, Ward learned that because of a childhood injury that left him blind in one eye, he was ineligible for the team's health insurance. He opted not to sign with the team.

Ward held several jobs throughout his career and eventually landed a job working for the U.S. Postal Service, where he met his wife, Dian, who had just begun working at the same post office part-time. Dian, a widower with six children at the time, didn't recognize Ward at first. He proceeded to tell her that she was his first- and third-grade crush. Once they got to know each other and became friends, Ward proposed to his first crush -- and they've been happily married for 13 years.

From star athlete to patient

Shortly after the couple married, Ward was diagnosed with bladder cancer. His treatment was successful, and he's been in remission for more than a decade. After suffering a major stroke in 2012, however, the former fullback was no longer able to walk and required the use of a wheelchair to get around. In 2017, an infection from a pressure sore on his foot spread to his bone and throughout his system, further incapacitating him. His wife, Dian, says he was unable to eat, sit up or attend church for quite a while. 

Everyone in the family helps with Ward's care. One of the children, Terrance, who lives with the Wards, helps when he's not at work. The other five children all live in the area and rotate to help the family as much as they can. Dian works around her schedule at Illinois Central Bus Co. to be there for her husband when other family members cannot.

Ward is now stronger and able to eat and sit for longer periods of time, says Dian, who credits BJC Home Care team members for helping him to reach his goals.

"The greatest blessing has been the BJC nurses, therapists and caregivers," she says. "They are angels sent from above. They helped me understand how to care for Cortez and gave me the tools and education I needed at the time."

Dian especially praises the care of Donna Burgess, RN; Amanda Sipp, speech pathologist; and Julia Arndt, physical therapist. "They are all our angels. They are all pulling so much for Cortez and our family. Some people work for a paycheck; some people work from the heart. They all work from the heart and love their patients -- you can tell."

The feeling is mutual, say Ward's BJC Home Care team members. "If there are angels on earth, Mrs. Ward is one of them," says Sipp. "She's been with Mr. Ward, of course, through each and every one of his illnesses and setbacks. And through it all, she's been what appears to be a superhero. She takes the very best care of him, encourages and pushes him, and advocates for him. Anything you suggest or ask her to do to help in his recovery -- she's on it. She's always so kind and always quoting a Bible verse or hymn to encourage or comment on something in the conversation."

Adds Arndt, "Dian is such a great wife and caregiver. She's hard-working, conscientious and a very important part of his recovery. I never had to ask Cortez to work harder or give 100% -- although I did bribe him once that I would bring pancakes the next time, if he met his goal that day."

A disappointing incident

After he began using a wheelchair, Ward was no longer able to ride in his family's Toyota Camry. For a recent medical appointment, he and Dian completed all of the necessary medical assessments and forms to book a ride service. On the day of the appointment, Dian got him ready and outside to wait for his ride. But the ride never came. Not only did Ward miss his appointment -- he also was unable to get his prescriptions renewed.

After learning about the incident, Burgess stepped in to make sure nothing like this would happen to the Wards again. Burgess went to work on social media, looking for a handicapped-accessible van for the family. 

It wasn't long before she heard from a friend, who was willing to sell a handicapped-accessible 2005 Dodge Caravan with 78,000 miles. Normally priced $30,000 to $80,000 new -- the seller was willing to offer it for just $6,000. Burgess immediately let the Wards know about the van, and they purchased it. 

"Cortez was able to go to church this past Sunday, which he hasn't done in years," says Burgess. "The family is so grateful, and Mr. Ward will be going to his first eye appointment in years, thanks to the newly acquired van."

"So many memorable moments"

Burgess says she was happy to go above and beyond for the Wards. "I've had so many memorable moments with the Ward family," she says. "That's what I love about home care -- the personal touch you can use with your nursing. I love being able to help a family personally and be there for the joys of the events of progress. Cortez always makes me laugh. With all he's been through, he is a rock."

Sipp agrees. "The Wards are one of the most special families I've ever worked with," she says. "The setbacks Mr. Ward has had have not kept him from still working hard and smiling. He always has a joke to tell or a story you might find interesting. He loves to talk about the issues of the day and ask about your own life. He's just an all-around sweet man who has been one of my favorite people ever to work with. 

"I feel like getting to work with the Wards was a privilege, and like I made some special friends," Sipp adds. "I do what I do because getting to be a part of someone's life in this way -- sometimes the hardest parts of their lives -- and work with them through those difficulties and gain back that chance to share a favorite meal, or talk to their grandchildren or just be themselves in some way again, even if small, is sometimes just magical. It's one of the most meaningful things I can imagine doing, and I'm so glad I've had the opportunity."

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