Taunton Mills as Stepping Stone in the Recovery of Stephen Raftis

In most cases, when somebody requires the support of a long-term care home and they finally make the move to become a resident in one, it’s the last move they make in life. Ideally, they are cared for and supported by a dedicated team filled with compassion, and they live the last stage of their life in fulfillment.

Sometimes, however, long-term care is a stepping stone in a person’s recovery where just the right mix of medical collaboration and personal determination combine to bring a person’s health back to the point where they can move home again.  

Team members at The Village of Taunton Mills know stories of such recovery are rare, so they’re proud to have been a part of Stephen Raftis’s transition from sudden illness and decline to steady improvement, recovery and an eventual return home to his wife, Jackie.

It was late 2016 when Stephen began experiencing problems with his eyesight and quickly his balance and mobility became compromised. He soon began to lose control of his physicality in every way possible. He’d been identified as at risk for multiple sclerosis some 20 years before, so doctors quickly suggested MS was to blame for this decline, but it had come so suddenly Jackie wasn’t convinced.

By April he was in the hospital full-time and doctors were looking beyond MS for a possible diagnosis and treatment. Soon a much less common illness was suggested: neurological sarcoidosis. There were treatment options, but a turnaround was by no means certain and doctors told Jackie they wouldn’t know if the treatment was working for at least six months.

“He may improve and he may not,” Jackie recalls doctors telling her, and the waiting was excruciating at times.

When he moved to the Village of Taunton Mills in March of 2018 after a year in hospital, he was unable to walk and could barely speak, though there had been signs of improvement from his lowest point in hospital. In a sense, he had stabilized at that level, recalls director of care Kim Rutschmann, and team decided to look at how they might help with Stephen’s rehabilitation. “Let’s look at the strength aspect of what he can do,” Kim recalls, and as exercise combined with Stephen’s response to proper medication, he continued to improve. His catheter was eventually removed, he began to speak more and eventually, he began walking again.

“His improvement leaped quite a bit,” Jackie recalls. “His cognitive function started to come back, he started to remember long term and we were able to have conversations with him again.”

“I’ve always been strong,” Steve said in late August, when asked about his recovery in the weeks before he moved home. Exercise helped in his continual improvement, he said, including “constant work on my legs.”

He didn’t recall moving into to Taunton Mills and most of his time in hospital is outside of his memory, but he understood how fortunate he was to be looking forward to moving home again where hopefully one day he’d be able to tend to his 3.5 acre property.

“It’s unbelievable,” Stephen said. “Now I can walk, which is incredible – it’s fantastic.”

A few weeks after Stephen spoke with The Village Voice, he moved home, and Jackie was cautiously optimistic about his continued improvement. “He may never be as good as he was before all this happened, but he’s certainly 100 per cent better than he was a year ago,” she says.

She’s grateful to The Village of Taunton Mills for the part it played in Stephen’s recovery, especially for helping his physical strength grow as the medication lessened the neurological inflammation that hindered his cognition. She recalls watching him walk with a walker to physiotherapy down main street one day, farther and faster than he had since his illness struck.

“ ‘Oh my God,’ ” she said to herself. “ ‘Look at him go!’ I was flabbergasted.”

Hopefully the improvements continue to shine now and well into the future, to the point where Stephen is able to look after the property come spring. Jackie looks forward to that as well. “I’m really happy to have him home,” she says. “I can tell you that much.”