by Estelle R. Brown

If you were to meet Yvonne Moir today, you would discover a vivacious 78-year-old who speaks five languages, addresses large crowds in Latvian, is writing a book, loves to drive, and plans to fly to Europe soon. You would find it hard to believe that just last fall, she was too confused, weak and ill to care for herself, or even to piece together a full sentence. What was the hidden key to her dramatic recovery?

It all began when Yvonne was hospitalized a year ago with multiple complications. Her daughter, Monica Lennon, turned to Briar Hill for Yvonne’s post-hospital rehab. Upon arriving — like most patients — Yvonne was eager to get back home to the retirement community in Mentor where she lived at the time. However, her strong will was stifled by cognitive deficits and her inability to fully articulate words and full sentences.

An innate determination was instilled in Yvonne as a 5-year-old Latvian girl in post-WWII Austria. Her family was on the move. “We moved again to Germany after the war in 1945, and I was at the age where I had to go to school, but I didn’t speak German yet. I had to learn it in first grade. I already spoke Russian, Polish and Latvian.”

By the time Yvonne turned 11 in 5th grade, she had to move again; this time to America. She was held back a year because of the language barrier, but she already had learned algebra and French. She soon learned English, too. She acclimated to American life, meeting her future husband during her senior year of high school, enjoying motherhood and a dynamic career in advertising and marketing.

Decades later, Briar Hill Speech therapist Shannon Intelisano, SLP, along with the rest of The Hills team, tapped into Yvonne’s challenge-loving nature, awakening her will to work harder toward her own recovery. “Shannon was able to overcome all of my problems by convincing me how important it was to get out of bed and to have therapy,“ Yvonne recalls.

“I would say, ‘Go away, I don’t want therapy now. I’m OK.’ But I wasn’t OK and she convinced me that I needed therapy. She would ask me questions that I couldn’t answer. Then she would say, ‘See? You’re not good.’ She was firm but always gentle in her approach. I have had nothing but excellent care here.”

Yvonne — like other patients — was eager to return home from her rehab stay. Yet upon transitioning back into her retirement community in Mentor, there was a critical issue at hand: effectively managing her cardiac medications. The director of nursing from the home care division of Briar Hill — the Hills at Home — informed the family of the implication of her cognition struggles with the task at hand. They collectively agreed to a seamless transition back at Briar Hill’s rehab.

Upon return and after continued treatments, Yvonne made remarkable improvements within a short period of time. Her memory increased by 33%, judgment improved by 200% and cognition scores went up by 300%. “These are outstanding functional outcomes!” reports Anthony Livingston, Rehab Director at Briar Hill. “Progress is evident, as Yvonne is independently managing her own finances, appointments, and access to community functions. At the time of discharge, Yvonne was able to return to assisted living and to begin driving independently again!”

What was that hidden key Shannon was able to turn in Yvonne? Yvonne recognizes now, “It was a determination to be back where I am now, to get back where I wanted to be.”

Now, Yvonne is enjoying heightened capabilities. “My German is better than ever since my mind came back. I call my cousins in Germany and I insist on speaking in German now, with my new brain. When I spoke before, I spoke simple German because I had only a 5th-grade German education. Now I can convert and speak intelligently at any level in clear, pure, high German.”

In fact, Yvonne speaks all five languages better than ever. A few months ago, she addressed an audience of 200, speaking in fluent Latvian. And now, she is writing a book (in English) about her childhood. She plans to renew her expired passport and travel back to Europe. The sky’s the limit!

The collaboration among skilled caregivers at The Hills combined with Yvonne’s inherently strong will, grit and determination resulted in her remarkable recovery over a period of fewer than six months. It’s about raising expectations, working to meet them, and then exceeding them, even taking chronic medical conditions and advancing age into consideration.

Yvonne’s recovery makes the message clear:  You can reach higher and live better — independently and vibrantly — with the proper mix of personal determination and coordinated care.