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When life hands you lemons ...

LAKOTA, N.D. -- Michelle Grawe walks the walk of the people who live at the Good Samaritan Society-Lakota. Grawe, administrator of the Good Samaritan, has had nerve damage and partial paralysis in her left leg since she was in a serious pickup tr...

Michelle Grawe
Michelle Grawe, Good Samaritan Society administrator in Lakota, N.D., has had a long recovery to get to where she is today after an accident that left her unable to walk. Now Grawe is a positive influence on people who know her. Herald photo by Jackie Lorentz

LAKOTA, N.D. -- Michelle Grawe walks the walk of the people who live at the Good Samaritan Society-Lakota.

Grawe, administrator of the Good Samaritan, has had nerve damage and partial paralysis in her left leg since she was in a serious pickup truck accident in 2000. The damage to her body from the injuries she suffered in her accident helps her to understand the physical limitations of some of the people who live at the Good Samaritan.

"I say around here I have the body of an 85-year-old," Grawe said with a grin. The ready grin and ability to laugh at herself are two of the few things about Grawe that haven't changed since the accident.

"From that, my whole life was turned upside down," said Grawe.

She readily admits that her life lacked direction before the accident. She had held several different jobs and been in and out of college a number of times before the accident forced her to take stock of her life and figure out what she wanted to do with it.

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Life-changing injuries

The accident happened nine years ago on May 8. It was the day before Grawe's 23rd birthday and she was riding in a pickup truck bound for Minneapolis when her friend, who was driving, lost control and the vehicle rolled.

Grawe wasn't wearing a seat belt.

"I tumbled about eight or 10 times with the pickup truck, but I stayed inside." Being thrown about broke her hips, pelvis, both legs and her right arm. She also sustained nerve damage to her left leg.

Doctors gave Grawe a grim diagnosis.

"They told me I wasn't going to walk because of the damage."

Grawe spent about three weeks after the accident in Hennepin County Medical Center in Minneapolis, then was transferred to a Fargo hospital where she was a patient for nearly three months. After Grawe was discharged from the hospital, she spent another month and a half in rehabilitation.

During the past nine years since the accident Grawe has had several surgeries and gone through intense physical therapy. She still has tingling in her left leg and foot and walks with a slight limp, but is grateful for the strides she's made, both physically and emotionally.

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Direction

She became much more focused after her accident, returning to college and graduating with an associate of applied science degree as a cardiovascular technician, and, eventually, a bachelor's degree in health service administration. After graduation from Minnesota State University Moorhead in 2006, Grawe returned to Arthur, N.D., where she had once worked as a certified nursing assistant, and went through the Good Samaritan Society's administrator-in-training program.

She worked as an interim director at several Good Samaritan Society centers in North Dakota and Minnesota before applying for the position in Lakota. She was named administrator of the Good Samaritan Society-Lakota in March.

Grawe, who, in the past, also had taken nursing classes in college and worked as a tissue procurement specialist, recently was on the cover of The Good Samaritan magazine. The issue features Good Samaritan Society administrators who had an unusual career journeys to their current positions.

As administrator, Grawe has drawn on her health care background, experience as a CNA and the things she learned about what it's like to be a patient.

In their shoes

"I went from being a caregiver for a number of years to all of a sudden having to be completely cared for. That opened my eyes to the other end of the spectrum...

"I have a heart for those whose shoes I've been in, not being able to walk, having your dignity stripped away....

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"I know what it's like to be wheeled down the hall having nothing on but a sheet. I know what it's like not to have your call light working when all you want is a drink of water."

Small things like having a glass of water within reach, sometimes make a bigger difference in residents' lives than does state-out-of-the-art equipment, she believes.

"It's the little things. You don't have to have the grandiose things."

Grawe, who has loss of range of motion, said she is a good tester of equipment, such as furniture, at the Good Samaritan Society-Lakota.

She knows first-hand, for example, that the over-stuffed sofas that are so popular now are a nightmare for people with mobility issues because they are nearly impossible to rise from.

Grawe also understands that it's important for people living at the Good Samaritan Society-Lakota to remain as independent as possible and that staff should let them do things for themselves when it's possible. She acknowledges that being independent can be painful, but says it's beneficial to the body.

"I really do understand how much five steps in the hallway will maintain their muscle tone."

Spreading the word

Grawe shares her perspective with the CNA's who work at the society and also tells them that caring for the residents requires more than meeting their physical needs. Listening and talking with residents is important, too, she said.

When she was in the hospital for all those months, the staff she got to know the best were the maintenance and housekeeping people because they talked to her as they worked, Grawe said.

She believes visiting with residents improves the relationship between CNAs and residents. The residents can share a lifetime of knowledge with the CNAs.

"It evolves from give, give give, to give and take."

"They have a lot to tell you about how to raise your kids, how to treat your husband, how to live your life."

Grawe plans to continue sharing her experiences as a caregiver and a patient because she believes it benefits both of them.

"I think as long I have breath in my body, I'm going to do it."

Bailey writes for special features sections. Reach her at (701) 787-6753; (800) 477-6572, ext. 753; or send e-mail to abailey@gfherald.com .

Related Topics: ACCIDENTS
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