For Don Yeagle, Abraham Lincoln is more than just the 16th president of the United States. While President Lincoln ended slavery and helped set the nation on a path to healing, he also had a hand in helping Don work on his blurred vision after a stroke. The history buff used the 10-volume biography on the president as part of his therapy and inspiration towards recovery.

Don’s journey started in May of 2016 when he was diagnosed with cluster headaches. Numbness set in a week later to the point he couldn’t lift a coffee pot – something he and his wife, Gail, attributed to a nerve issue.

“I wasn’t familiar with stroke symptoms,” Gail says, “And then I heard a really weird noise. I ran out and found him lying on the floor. Then it became clear he had a stroke.”

Despite slurred speech, Don seemed to be recovering at his local hospital until a brain hemorrhage put him in the intensive care unit. His doctor immediately reached out to the Penn State Comprehensive Stroke Center team for a consultation. His best hope for recovery was to be transferred to Penn State Health Milton S. Hershey Medical Center.

Gail turned to the doctor, who was also a friend; he told her to trust her heart. Hoping to gain more confidence and support in her decisions, she leaned down to Don and heard him softly say to her, “Trust God.” It was the sign she needed; Don was headed to Milton S. Hershey Medical Center. Being a pastor, Don shared with his wife a message his congregation was used to hearing. Their three children and many members of that congregation gathered around his bedside and whispered words of encouragement. One young congregant, who had recently suffered from an illness and had been close to death whispered, “You fought for me. Now it’s my turn to fight for you.”

Neurologist Dr. Dave Ermak was also fighting for Don. He awaited Don’s arrival by Life Lion to Hershey Medical Center. While Don did not need surgery, he did have two months of recovery ahead.

“The Hershey Medical Center care teams are our ‘Angels of Mercy.’ Not one doctor or nurse ever took away our hope.” Gail says.
“From the window in my room, I could see people enjoying the hospital’s healing garden and I remember saying, ‘I want to be one of those people enjoying the garden,’” Don says.

He was transferred in June of 2016 a short drive down the road to Penn State Health Rehabilitation Hospital. Therapy was needed for recovery. His left side was immobile; he couldn’t walk; his eyes could not focus.

And that’s where Abraham Lincoln comes in. Don made the unusual request to his speech language pathologist, Lauren, to use the 10-volume biography in his therapy. She encouraged him to do so. He’s read more than 4,000 pages of Lincoln’s voluminous biography while on his road to recovery.

Don’s goal was to walk out of the Rehab Hospital and into that healing garden he could see from his hospital room window.

Six weeks later, he did.

“When we got home from the hospital, our yard was full of members of the congregation waiting for the pastor to get home,” Gail says. “They had built a deck and a ramp on our house.”

“When people say to me, ‘It’s good to see you,’ I say, ‘It’s good to be seen,’” Don says. “When you have a medical team who doesn’t take away your hope, it’s so much easier to get better. Everyone was so encouraging and I felt so safe. We always say when we drive back to the hospital, ‘We’re coming home.’”

Having already seen Lincoln’s home, Don is looking for another adventure to plan for following his recovery. A trip with his 13-year-old grandson, Jacob, to Franklin D. Roosevelt’s home in Hyde Park, N.Y may just do the trick.

Share your thoughts