The doctors told Mike Weiner’s family he would never walk, talk or hear again. He remembers lying in the hospital bed, unable to move or listen to the heartbreaking conversation, only witnessing his family’s reaction as the doctor delivered the news. After a staph infection took away his basic human bodily functions in 2012, his family was told pulling the plug might be the only option.
“The doctor was amazed when I walked back into his office years later,” Weiner said.
The South Philly native with a sailor mouth has a few more choice words for that doctor, and anyone who didn’t believe in him – they’re just unfit for publication. The bottom line is, he’s walking, talking and hearing again five years later, something his team at Glendale Uptown Home in Rhawnhurst said is nothing short of a miracle.
Last week, Weiner walked away from Glendale without turning back. He was independently discharged back to his home in South Philly. And he can’t wait to make up for the lost time.
“I’ll get closer with my granddaughters,” he said of Madison, 6, and Macey, 2. He’ll babysit when his son and daughter-in-law are at work, in addition to fishing, shopping and riding his bike. He’ll go on dates with his girlfriend, Roe. He’ll also continue getting regular exercise and staying in shape, something the old Mike Weiner wasn’t as concerned with.
Now 60, Weiner said he drank and smoked frequently before he got the staph infection. The former boilermaker and construction worker started having trouble breathing in 2012 and started dialysis for his kidneys after a hospital visit.
One night, things took a drastic turn for the worse. He knocked on his father’s door and asked to be taken to the hospital with his eyes “popping out of my head” – though he doesn’t remember anything from that night.
“They called an ambulance and shipped me out to Jefferson, but I don’t remember that. And there I had bypass surgery, I don’t remember that. I remember sitting there laying on the bed, and my sister was on one side and my son was on the other, and they were crying and I don’t remember the operation, nothing,” he said.
That’s when the doctor informed them of the staph infection and he was told he would never walk, talk or hear again. He spent the next two months in a coma.
“I see my grandmother and my great aunt. This is the truth,” he said. “They were wearing white veils in front of a gray background like clouds. My grandmother said, ‘Go back Michael. We’re not ready for you.’ I don’t think it was a dream.”
The doctor’s diagnosis was accurate for three years. For that long he laid on his back, communicating by blinking, unable to even feed himself, connected to a number of tubes in what Weiner called nothing short of a nightmare.
But after two years, his voice started to return. Another year after that, he felt a tingle in his foot. With the help of a therapist, he started to talk and swallow his own food again. Then, one day, surrounded by five doctors, he finally stood again. He continued to regain sensation and movement, able to move himself with a walker and supervision.
He moved to Glendale, a rehab and nursing center, in 2015. He was one of the first admissions overseen by Anne Rumsey, marketing and business development director at Glendale.
“The rehab team and I work with sick people all the time who don’t recover from being paralyzed,” she said. “He’s made such huge strides, and I think the world needs to hear this.”
“You hated when my voice came back,” Weiner joked to Rumsey.
“We didn’t hate it, we loved it,” Rumsey said with a laugh. “He’s a very easy guy to love.”
Weiner worked with therapists including Autumn DeMoor, director of physical therapy, and Ravi Buddharaju. Once he was able to walk outside, he and Buddharaju would take walks around the streets and go to the store – he promised Buddharaju a cut of his lottery winnings if he ever won. He also worked with Carol Reid, his case manager, and wanted to thank Miss Edna, Mary Ann, Dr. Don and Dr. Nemez for their support in his journey.
Born and raised in South Philadelphia, Weiner is a devout fan of Philly sports – not even living in Glendale could stop him from catching a Phillies game or two with Roe in the past couple of years. One year, he snuck off to see the Mummers Parade without telling Glendale staff where he was going – but he still showed up where he was supposed to when he was supposed to.
Weiner still speaks with a throaty rasp, and walks at a safe pace, but for him his recovery is a second chance at life he once thought he would never get to live. Not bad for a guy who underwent about a dozen operations in the last seven years.
“We didn’t get to see his first steps, but we’ll see his last steps out the door,” DeMoor said.
“And it’s going to be a conga line,” Rumsey said.