The next phase in Steamboat Springs resident Chris Stillwell's battle to recover from a serious brain injury will take place at a world-renowned rehabilitation center.
Stillwell, owner of the Nite's Rest Motel, was transferred Friday from Denver Health Medical Center to Denver's Craig Hospital, a facility that specializes in rehabilitation and research for patients with traumatic brain injury.
Stillwell entered a coma after falling down a flight of stairs at his motel Dec. 15. He was taken to Yampa Valley Medical Center before being transported later that evening to Denver Health Medical Center.
He recently emerged from that coma, but much is uncertain about his recovery, said longtime friend Ted Sells on Friday.
In the past week, Stillwell has been speaking more, recognizing and greeting family members and making comments about things he sees on television. He has begun to eat food, and doctors removed his ventilator.
However, he still can't walk or move any part of his body except his right arm, Sells said. His attention span is short, and he usually speaks only in sentence fragments.
"But it's a hell of a lot better than what it was," Sells said.
Family and friends hope the opportunity to rehabilitate with professionals at Craig Hospital will be the spark Stillwell needs to make significant steps forward in his recovery.
"Craig (Hospital) is where I think he's going to take off," Sells said. "It's exactly what he needs."
The hospital describes its 30- to 60-day Acute Rehabilitation Program as designed for "patients who can benefit from an active, functional, outcome-oriented treatment program." The individualized program consists of work by a team of family members and professionals, including physicians, occupational, physical, speech and language therapists, nurses, neuropsychologists, patient and family services counselors, community re-entry specialists, an insurance case manager and others.
Outpatient and follow-up care also are part of the program. Stillwell is likely to be in rehabilitation programs for at least a year, Sells said.
"It's quite a place," Sells said. "It's really remarkable we were able to get him into Craig Hospital this quickly. It's extremely difficult to get into."
Stillwell's improvement the past couple of weeks enabled the family to bypass, at least for now, plans to move him to a San Diego-area long-term care facility. He was eligible to receive care at Craig Hospital only when doctors determined he could actively participate in rehabilitation for three hours ever day. The family may choose to bring Stillwell to San Diego once his stay at Craig Hospital is completed.
Stillwell's father will be able to stay free for up to 30 days at an apartment facility adjacent to the hospital, Sells said.
The Acute Rehabilitation Program, though extremely costly, will be paid for through insurance and about $20,000 raised for Stillwell.
A benefit held Sunday at the Denver Chop House and Brewery raised much of that money, Sells said. The restaurant donated proceeds from beer sales that night, and in a surprise move, waiters and waitresses donated the tips they received. Raffle ticket sales and an auction also helped raise money.
"The benefit was beyond everyone's expectations," Sells said. "The generosity of the community was just spectacular. I think everyone kind of needed it because we had all been holding our breath (since the accident)."
About 140 people attended the event; half of those in attendance were from Steamboat.
A Web site detailing Stillwell's ongoing recovery is updated daily. The site's address is www.chrisstillwell.com.
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