rachel stotler walk for thought honoreeUnique for this year, the Brain Injury Association of Kansas and Greater Kansas City has selected Rachel Stotler Clasemann, a TBI survivor, as our “Walk-for-Thought” Honoree. The Walk-for-Thought is a 1.5 mile walk offered at the “Going the Distance” for Brain Injury Run/Benefit. The walk is attended by many brain injury survivors and their family members. Rachel was nominated by a friend and fellow classmate of the Occupational Therapy program at Rockhurst University in Kansas City, MO. Here is Rachel’s story:

On January 10, 2011, Rachel Stotler Clasemann, was driving home from a routine day at work. At the time, Rachel was a busy mother of two young sons (Jacob, 5 years old, and Nathan, 3 years old) working as an Occupational Therapist at Immanuel Medical Center (IMC) in Omaha, NE. On that fateful afternoon, Rachel was involved in an automobile accident that changed her life forever. Rushed in an ambulance to Creighton University Medical Center, Rachel was treated for a ruptured spleen and traumatic brain injury. Doctors performed a splenectomy and then a bilateral craniectomy. A craniectomy is a neurosurgical procedure in which part of the skull is removed — allowing the brain to swell without being squeezed. Rachel’s survival was nearly a miracle. The neurosurgeon told Rachel’s family her injury was the worst he had ever seen. Upon surviving both surgeries, Rachel was in a coma and transferred to the Intensive Care Unit. From the ICU, and still in a coma state, Rachel began receiving Occupational Therapy, Physical Therapy and Speech Therapy. Her husband, Jon, was able to visit her daily. During her initial days of recovery, Rachel still faced serious health concerns with high blood pressure and high fevers. Once doctors stabilized the situation, Rachel was approved for two more surgeries. The next surgeries were a Tracheotomy, an incision into the windpipe to help with breathing, and a Precutaneous Endoscopic Gasterostomy, in which a tube is passed into the stomach to provide a means of feeding.

One month after the accident, Rachel was transferred to Immanuel Medical Center (IMC), her former place of employment. Her own co-workers were able to help with Acute Rehab, an intensive, multidisciplinary rehabilitation program. This was a very difficult time for Rachel’s family as Rachel was still in a coma and minimally responsive. Rachel’s co-workers began working with her on beginning tasks such as mouth movement and passive range of motion. By March, Rachel was breathing on her own, a big step forward. Through the kindness and perseverance of Rachel’s therapists and former co-workers, Rachel also received her own tilt-in-space wheelchair. Her therapists designed the chair and guided her family through a difficult insurance process to receive it.

In April, Rachel was transferred to On With Life (OWL), a Post-Acute Rehab facility, in Ankeny, Iowa. The facility was a 2.5 hour drive from Rachel’s hometown. For this reason, Rachel’s parents alternated weeks in Ankeny to help with rehab and learn to care for her. Her husband and children visited on weekends. Also in April, Rachel was able to get her trach removed. She surpassed expectations, continuing to progress both cognitively and physically.

In September, after eight, long months, Rachel was finally out of a coma state. This was an important milestone for Rachel and her family. Rachel was also making progress with eating, achieving active movement in most muscle groups, counting with both hands, speaking simple words and standing with assistance. Although Rachel was a very different person from the outside, her inner determination and work ethic were still as strong as ever. She always challenged herself in therapy sessions and chose the most difficult options whenever possible.

By October 2011, Rachel was approved for a bilateral cranioplasty. This was a grueling, eight-hour surgery to install artificial bone flaps, which replaced the bone removed from her skull in January. The surgery was a success, but Rachel faced many serious health setbacks after surgery. Due to infections, Rachel had to have the left bone flap removed and replaced. For several months to follow, Rachel dealt with seizures, infections, rapid heart rate, high blood pressure and was back in a coma state for an additional six months. Her perseverance and survival continued to surpass expectations and prove Rachel to be a true warrior.

Rachel eventually moved to On With Life’s long-term care facility in Glenwood, Iowa. This is where she has resided since September 2012. Although Rachel is cognitively fine, her brain injury has affected all aspects of functioning—including difficulties with speech, eyesight/tracking, feeding, self-care and physical activities, such as standing unassisted or walking even with assistance. Thankfully the facility is only a 30-minute drive from Rachel’s home. This allows Rachel to stay closely involved with her family. Rachel’s parents visit regularly to help with her therapies. Rachel is able to visit home for school programs, parent-teacher conferences, church services, holidays, birthdays and special events. Her husband, Jon, converted the downstairs office in their home to a bedroom for Rachel, allowing for occasional overnights.

In October 2019, Rachel and her family experienced another big scare. Rachel was not behaving like herself... her care-providers discovered her temperature had dropped to 90 degrees, and Rachel started having seizures again. Rachel was diagnosed with a very serious Urinary Tract Infection (UTI) resulting in hospitalization in the ICU. Rachel battled the infection and its affects for a few months. Again proving to be the ultimate fighter, Rachel eventually conquered the UTI and the seizures. She has slowly returned to a medically-stable life. Today Rachel is back to her normal schedule and showing more progress than before the infection started in October.

Rachel has always been an overachiever in life. She graduated from high school near the top of her class. She accepted a scholarship to attend Rockhurst University in Kansas City, Missouri. In four years at Rockhurst, Rachel graduated suma cum laude with a Bachelor’s of Art (BA) in psychology and a Bachelor’s of Science in biology. Rachel went on to receive her Masters in Occupational Therapy (OT) at Rockhurst. Rachel played tennis, sang in choirs and enjoyed creative hobbies such as scrapbooking and stamping. Even in her current situation, Rachel is still the same beautiful, bright, creative soul. She loves hand-over-hand activities (such as painting with her father), computer games, physical activities, (such as exercising in the therapeutic pool) and spending time with her family. Rachel’s story of survival, strength and determination is a true inspiration. Rachel continues to make great strides each day and brings joy to everyone around her.