Chelsea Graham can’t forget the horror of that night. At least 20 bullets riddled the front of the family’s home at 3:30 in the morning, tearing through windows, doors and walls. She and her children were safe but her husband Chris – who had fallen asleep on the sofa in the living room — was hit in the ankle, hand, thigh and head.
The trauma team at Alegent Creighton University Medical Center was activated as medics told him not to move and lifted him carefully from the couch. Police officers set up crime tape around the home. Investigators went to work as the 35-year-old father of four was rushed to the Level I Trauma Center in critical condition.
Brain surgery, or a craniectomy, was necessary to relieve pressure on Graham’s brain and to save his life. In the neurosurgical procedure, doctors remove part of the skull because of excessive swelling or bleeding around the brain.
Even though the extent of his recovery was difficult to predict, his wife Chelsea remained optimistic. “He’s miraculously better,” she said, glad that he was alive and improving.
As part of Alegent Creighton Health’s “continuum of care,” Chris Graham went from the trauma bay to the operating room to the intensive care unit to a hospital bed to rehab at Alegent Creighton Health’s Immanuel Rehabilitation Center
His physical therapist there, Julie Huckins, worked with Christopher and his family to develop an individualized treatment plan with the goal of his returning home and being able to participate in his regular daily activities.
“One of his biggest deficits was his balance,” said Huckins. “Balance is critical to so many skills such as sitting, standing and walking.” At the rehab center, Graham used a high-tech machine, the Proprio 5000, to help him relearn balance. The machine involves having the patient stand on a large raised platform that tilts in all directions. A computer controls tilting and challenges balance. The machine is just one example of the high-tech tools the team at Immanuel Rehabilitation Center uses.
“He did really well,” Huckins said. “His balance improved. He was better able to walk. His endurance was better.”
Because he was physically active before the shooting, Huckins said Graham would recover more quickly. “Plus his family support was great,” she said. “His wife came every day. We incorporated his family and had him play basketball with his youngest daughter.”
Karli Morman helps Chris Graham regain his balance and coordination.
His occupational therapist, Karli Morman, helped him with everyday activities and his speech language pathologist, Lindsey Macy, also saw him daily during his two-week inpatient stay at Immanuel. Damage to the left lobe of the brain can cause a language disorder called aphasia. For Graham that meant difficulty speaking his intended message.
“He had a hard time finding the right words,” Macy said. “He had very fluent speech when he spoke but it was not always accurate.”
At first, Graham struggled with coming up with his children’s names but he made significant progress while at Immanuel Rehab, Macy said. They even talked about the family’s finances and he was able to fill out a check register. “With some supervision, he could calculate and balance it,” she said. “We really worked on expression, problem-solving and memory.”
Unfortunately progress is not predictable with brain injuries, she said.
“I try not to cry when I see him,” wife Chelsea Graham said. “There’s a lot of stuff he has to learn that he’s lost.” Chris and Chelsea first met when they were nine years old and have been married eight years. “I’m so happy he’s here, getting all this help.”
She described the therapy as “awesome” and said prayers of family and friends helped a lot. “He’s talking more,” she beamed. “And he wants to go back to work.”
She didn’t know how soon — if ever — life will return to normal. Graham continued to wear a helmet to protect his brain even after his discharge, she said, and will need it until the part of his skull that was removed is replaced. Then he’ll need more surgeries.
The family is still reeling from the violence, she said. Their eight-year-old continues to have nightmares. According to police, no arrests have been made yet in the shooting. They are investigating whether the same person or persons who shot at Graham’s house also shot and killed five-year-old Payton Benson a couple of weeks later.
“Chris remembers what happened that morning,” she said about his shooting. “But he’s not angry.”
Many trauma patients, like Christopher Graham, qualify for acute rehabilitation in a hospital setting to relearn skills and learn how to successfully transition to home. The Alegent Creighton Health Immanuel Rehabilitation Center is accredited by the Commission on Accreditation of Rehabilitation Facilities for the care of patients with stroke, spinal cord injury, brain injury or who need other comprehensive inpatient programs.The inpatient program offers a full continuum of care from acute inpatient rehabilitation, outpatient therapy, wellness services, support groups, sports and leisure programs to lifelong follow up care. Patient safety and satisfaction, as well as clinical quality, are top priorities at Immanuel Rehabilitation Center.