James' story

James (Jim) LeBlond, 58, was born and raised in the Cincinnati, Ohio area. He received his bachelor’s degree in finance degree at Miami University, where he met his wife, Jeanne. After earning his MBA from the University of Cincinnati, he began working in financial planning, where he has remained for approximately 35 years. Jim and Jeanne have two children and five grandchildren, who all live local. He enjoys fly-fishing, spending time with his grandchildren and attending all of their sports activities. “I spend my days working, love to do lunch with granddaughters, play soccer together in the front yard and take them sledding in the winter,” said Jim.

One spring day, he was clearing out brush and debris from his backyard when he inadvertently came into contact with hemlock. He assumes he got it on his gloves and unknowingly ingested it; he recalls a bitter taste in his mouth. Later in the day, he became very short of breath. He tried to tough it out until 4 a.m. when he couldn’t bear it any longer and went to TriHealth Good Samaritan Hospital.

Initially, doctors thought Jim had COVID-19, until he tested negative multiple times. He was eventually diagnosed with hemlock poisoning. His lungs began to fail and he was placed in a medically induced coma to give his lungs a chance to heal. They prepared Jeanne for the possibility that he might not make it as his lungs began to fill with blood.

Jim’s recovery journey included three weeks in the ICU at Good Samaritan Hospital, three weeks at Select Specialty Hospital - Cincinnati North, heart surgery followed by a stay in the Cardiac ICU at Bethesda North, then back to Select Specialty Hospital. Once he was medically stable, Jim transferred to TriHealth Rehabilitation Hospital for further recovery.

Upon admission, Jim was incredibly weak and fully dependent for most daily tasks recalling, “I was so weak that I couldn’t even press the buttons on the remote to change the TV channel. I couldn’t sit up, walk or do every day activities.” He set a goal to fully recover and get back to where he was prior to becoming ill. He also wanted to go back to work, take the dog for walks, attend his granddaughter’s soccer games, go grocery shopping and cook dinners. He said he previously took those things for granted.

Physical therapists worked with Jim on endurance, balance, strength and neuromuscular re-education. He practiced standing and walking using the LiteGait harness, a body weight support system, which provided the safety and support needed while he regained strength. “When I regained the ability to stand, I knew I reached a turning point,” said Jim. He also used the parallel bars for support while walking and eventually began stair training. Therapists also had him practice getting up off the floor so he would be able to play with his granddaughters when he returned home.

In occupational therapy, Jim worked on improving independence while performing everyday tasks, such as bathing, dressing, toileting and grooming. Jim said, “I practiced toilet and tub bench transfers and used a car simulator to practice getting in and out of a vehicle.” Therapists also taught him to use assistive devices, such as a transfer board, to make it easier for him to transfer from one surface to another. In group therapy sessions, Jim participated in leisure activities like corn hole, bowling, Wii games and balloon volleyball to help work on balance and coordination.

Speech therapy focused on strategies to aid in memory and speech. Additionally, they worked on swallowing techniques to maximize function and safely to allow him to eat soft, bite-sized foods without fear of choking. “Speech therapy helped me because I had lost the ability to swallow, and now I can have bite-sized food,” said Jim. Therapists also provided training to Jim’s family so they could use the same, safe strategies at home.

Jim received a lot of support from him family and friends during his recovery. “My wife has been a saint.  She stood by me in the hospital every day that she was able to,” said Jim. The couple’s friends, family, neighbors and church provided more than 100 meals throughout his illness. They also mowed Jim and Jeanne’s lawn and refinished their deck. Jeanne kept all their friends and families updated on Jim’s progress through text messages. “The outpouring of love from everyone has been amazing. We are very fortunate to know such caring people.”

Jim and Jeanne celebrated their 35th anniversary while he was in the hospital, and they were able to celebrate the occasion with his favorite soup.

After more than three weeks at TriHealth Rehabilitation Hospital, Jim was able to return home to his family walking and performing daily living activities with little help. “I am able to stand up and walk with a rolling walker now,” said Jim. “I’m more independent for showers and doing things for myself like brushing my teeth and washing my face.” After being hospitalized for a total of 109 days, Jim couldn’t wait to hug his granddaughters and spend time with his infant grandson who was born shortly before he became sick.

Jim’s family, friends, neighbors and the Madeira High School Pep Band were all there to greet him when he returned home. Jim planned to continue with home therapy with the hope of progressing to outpatient therapy.