Steve’s will to walk:

Galena man never takes the act of walking for granted: It’s his independence


Steven Holmes says, “One! Two! Three! Four!” At the same time he bounces up and down with each number.

On the fourth bounce this Galena resident makes it up onto his feet. His physical therapists Sara Doerr and Julie Soat watch with pride.

Standing up is such a simple act but for Homes, standing up requires so much effort. That’s the easy part. Soon, the real work commences. With all his might, he begins walking. He throws every inch of his being–arms, shoulders, body and mind–into moving his feet ever so slowly forward.

It doesn’t matter to Holmes how long it takes to cover those five and a half feet from wheelchair to the customer counter at Midwest Medical Center’s fitness center. He finally lays his hands and lower arms on the counter, lets out a breath, lowers and raises his head. He smiles, a big, broad smile that shows he’s so proud of himself.

“That’s the farthest I’ve walked,” he says.

Soat and Doerr are also smiling as are Midwest Medical Center orthopedist Dr. Bill Farrell and family practitioner Dr. Michael Wells.

Holmes is like that prize athlete whose coaches praise for always giving 110 percent, who is a team player. Except, in this case, Holmes is giving 1,000 percent effort and is inspiring those around him at the same time.

Holmes isn’t pursuing trophies or prize money. He’s pursuing something more valued and treasured: the ability to walk once again.

To Holmes, walking is something never to be taken for granted.

Holmes came into this world with an orthopedic birth defect called arthrogryposis. It causes joint deformities and muscle issues. Doctors told Holmes’ parents that their son would never walk. Doctors didn’t know the strength of his resolve.

At two years of age, he walked across the living room floor. Two years later, following surgery to shorten his thigh bone, he received his first pair of braces in Chicago.

“I could suddenly walk,” he recalls. He immediately walked about Lincoln Park.

He’s been walking ever since and doesn’t take what seems like such a simple act for granted.

Although his walking looks labored, walking gives Holmes independence.

“Walking means I can get up and do things and have fewer limitations. Walking has a lot to do with my attitude and self-confidence,” Holmes says.

“Walks means that I am able to do my share of household activities. It means I can haul groceries into the kitchen.”

This past October, Holmes nearly lost his independence. Now, he’s driven to regain that and walk once again.

In October, Holmes nearly fell. Although he didn’t hit the floor, the jolt caused a hip fracture. With Farrell out of town, Wells suggested that Holmes go to the emergency room in Dubuque, Iowa.

The orthopedist at MercyOne Dubuque didn’t feel comfortable treating Holmes and had concerns with osteoporosis and the birth defect. Ultimately, Holmes traveled to University Hospitals in Iowa City by ambulance for surgery there.

But this was no easy surgery. Surgeons were concerned that the hip bone was too soft in which to implant a prosthesis as well as how narrow the hip bone had become. Instead surgeons did a girdlestone procedure. This meant Holmes’ femur would be held in place by scar tissue.

The only downside is that the impacted leg could be shorter than the other. In Holmes’ case the right leg is just a tad bit shorter.

What grew was Holmes’ desire to walk again. If something is snatched from you, you want it back.

Holmes says this desire, this yearning to walk again is born of “tough love” freely shared by his mother.

He’s always found ways to work around his physical challenges and is quick to credit his parents for this ability to find solutions.

Holmes shares, “My mom always gave me lots of puzzles to help me train myself to solve puzzles and problems. If I asked for things she thought I could do, she said, ‘Do it yourself. God gave you a brain, figure it out.’

“It was tough love when I needed it.”

After a week in Iowa City, Holmes took that long ambulance ride to Midwest Medical Center for skilled care. He faced eight to 12 weeks with no weight bearing on his legs.

That’s when Farrell entered the picture. He agreed to assist with Holmes’ medical care joining a team made up of Wells, nurses and physical and occupational therapists.

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They checked vitals and his healing. For three weeks, physical therapists worked with him two times a day; occupational therapists, two to three times a week.

Having used up his allotted time in skilled care paid by Medicare, Holmes then moved to the nursing home for continued healing. He still couldn’t bear any weight upon his legs.

He spent eight weeks there. Team members continued to visit, checking his progress and continuing physical therapy.

He sent his leg braces off to Coralville, Iowa, for adjustments in preparation for the day he could become weight-bearing, and then moved back to the hospital, this time staying for five-and-a-half weeks as he learned once again to stand. He progressed to the point where on a home visit he could get from his bed to a chair with the help of a wheelchair.

He moved home. For the next four weeks, physical and occupational therapists each worked with Holmes in his home two times per week.

Now he travels to Midwest Medical Center for his physical therapy appointments thanks to Jo Daviess Transit. Each time he stands longer.

“I could probably stand 15-20 minutes now,” he exclaims.

Three weeks ago a “walk” might be two to three feet. Two weeks later, Holmes walked five-and-a-half feet.

Holmes is determined to put in the grunt work to improve his quality of life.

“I’ve known a lot of people that get to the point (with physical therapy) where they say, ‘It hurts,’” he says. “I promised the physical therapists, ‘You tell me what to do and I’m going to try what you say and put every ounce of energy into this.’

“A lot of this is being willing to do it and be willing to put up with some discomfort. The end goal is so important.”

Holmes’ caregivers are so impressed and appreciative of his drive. They push him to be better. He pushes them to be better.

Farrell says it’s a “real joy” working with Holmes and adds, “I have not seen any patient with as much determination, especially with the challenges Steve faces. I’ve never seen anyone who has made so much progress. He was absolutely determined. That is what made our job a joy and easy.”

Wells adds, “It would be easy for Steve to write himself off to be in a wheelchair. He hasn’t accepted that and has risen to the challenge. Watching him stand today was very touching and heartwarming to see. Watching the burden of activity he has getting out of a chair to stand and walk makes me tired and he does it every day. He doesn’t hold back.”

Two of his physical therapists, Julie Soat and Sara Doerr, are equally amazed with his work ethic and determination.

Soat marvels at Holmes’ “self-driven nature and internal motivation” to help himself and adds, “He’s fun to work with.”

Plus, Holmes faithfully carries out his home exercises.

Doerr shares that Holmes has made her feel more grateful for the blessings in her life, the ability to get up easily and go about life. She appreciates Holmes’ desire to walk.

Holmes has given his caretakers another gift, a renewed appreciation for their teamwork. Each has played a crucial role. They’ve consulted each other as they’ve monitored Holmes’ progress.

Farrell says that he’s worked in many places and has never experienced the team approach he’s found at Midwest Medical Center.

He notes, “Steve needed a team with input from nurses, doctors and occupational and physical therapists.”

Wells echoes Farrell’s sentiments. “No one said, ‘No.’ We said let’s do what we can so Steve can get where he wants to be. Seeing this team come together is wonderful.”

Soat added, “We (the physical therapists) are super fortunate that we work in this hospital where we have quick access to talk to our doctors. We can ask, ‘Can you come take a look at this?’ or ‘What do you think?’ We all talk together.”

This team approach isn’t lost on Holmes. He notes, “I have used so much of the hospital on this journey. There are so many services that not everyone knows of and how capable and good the staff is.”

Although he didn’t want to reside at the nursing home, those eight weeks there impressed him. “I never heard anyone speak sharply or negatively to any of the residents. These were all caring people, he says.

About his team, Homes adds, “They’ve brought me back so far and they keep working with me. These folks and this hospital are a blessing to the community.”

Even after all of this, that spirit of independence still burns deeply within Holmes. The challenge is great. Walking again after his surgery can be challenging even for someone who had no issues walking. When you add into the equation Holmes’ birth defect coupled with the fact many can’t ever walk with this birth defect, it would be easy to write himself off and say, “I’ll never walk again.”

He shares, “I want to walk independently again. I know that I will keep trying. I’m the only one who can say, ‘can’t.’ I’m not going to do that.”

Holmes’ team isn’t about to say “can’t” either.