AUGUSTA, Ga. (WJBF) – Gwen Snead is a beloved teacher, who taught for many years at Episcopal Day School in Augusta. In July she suffered a brainstem stroke and subsequently was diagnosed with Locked-In Syndrome. We learn what happened, her long road to recovery, and how you can help. And we’re gonna learn a lot about that today. A long road to recovery. Gwen also has a young son, Dylan, just a third grader and the family could use your assistance. And to help walk us through all of that is her longtime friend and colleague, Miriam Ford.
Brad Means: And Miriam, thank you so much for taking the time to talk about what is a very, very tough subject.
Miriam Ford: It is, thanks for having me, Brad.
Brad Means: Absolutely. We wanna find out what happened to Gwen so the viewers can understand what is going on in her and her family’s life. But first of all, let’s just talk about y’all’s relationships. So you were colleagues/friends for many years?
Miriam Ford: Yes, yes. We became friends very quickly when we were colleagues and worked very closely together at EDS for a long time. And our boys are the same age, so they were growing up together and became good friends also. So we spent a lot of time together.
Brad Means: Yeah, you know, a lot of people, when they think about teachers, they think about you being just kind of locked in your classroom, focused on your own little world and maybe you see your colleagues in the teachers’ lounge or whatever it’s called now. But it was more than that with y’all, right? It is more than that with y’all. It was a real friendship.
Miriam Ford: Yes. Yes, it’s a lot more than that. We spent then and still do spend a lot of time together with other friends and with our boys just having a good time.
Brad Means: No one could have seen what was coming this past summer. If memory serves, it was somewhere around the 4th of July, maybe a little bit after. Why don’t you tell us what happened to Gwen and just kind of what life has been like since then. We’ll start at the beginning, though. Everything was normal until what?
Miriam Ford: Well, she’d been having some headaches and issues and she’d been seeing some doctors and trying to figure out what was going on and what was causing all that. But then, one night at home, she suffered a massive stroke in her brainstem. And as many people have learned, quick action is really important when you have a stroke. The problem in Gwen’s case is that her stroke happened late at night. And so everybody-
Brad Means: Seems like she’s asleep. Right?
Miriam Ford: Right, right. So there was no quick action to be taken. It seems like she was asleep, everybody else was asleep. So we didn’t know for many, many hours that anything had happened. So there was a lot of damage that was done during that time.
Brad Means: I think that’s the understatement of the century, a lot of damage that was done. Did the doctors, by the way, just to back up a little bit, have they said since, “Hey, if y’all would’ve gotten to her earlier, we could have staved off some of these results or some of these consequences?”
Miriam Ford: They said it was possible that it might have helped, but it was such a massive stroke, that it might not have helped anyway. And there was no way, of course, for us to have known. So there’s no way to know if it would help or not.
Brad Means: So here we have a vibrant, 41 year old lady, who had been having some headaches, who had been having some issues, sure. What is life like for her now? Describe what she goes through each day.
Miriam Ford: Gwen is still 100% the same Gwen on the inside. And she tells us that, she’s the same on the inside. She still has her same quick wit, her same awesome sense of humor, her same caring spirit about her friends and family. She just can’t move her body.
Brad Means: How do you know she’s the same Gwen, then?
Miriam Ford: Well, she has been able to start moving some things. All along, she’s been able to move her eyes.
Brad Means: Yeah.
Miriam Ford: So we have an iPad that has the alphabet laid out on it in chart form. And we hold that up in front of her and she can actually mouth a number now. And she tells us one, two, three, four or five, what line to go to. And we call out the letters on that line and she spells things out for us. It’s slow, it’s tedious.
Brad Means: Sure.
Miriam Ford: One letter at a time. But if you know Gwen really well, you usually only have to get a letter or two.
Brad Means: Right.
Miriam Ford: And we can figure out what she’s trying to tell us. But yes, she is able to communicate with us in that way.
Brad Means: So this Locked-In Syndrome is just what it sounds like. It’s a person who’s locked in their own body. I know you said there’s eye communication. Thank goodness we’re starting to see a little bit of movement in the fingers, perhaps. But other than that, is she completely reliant on others to tend to her every single need?
Miriam Ford: Yes, 24/7 she needs someone with her. She has gained a lot of ground over the last few months. At first, really, the only thing she could do is look up with her eyes and close her eyes and that’s it. But there are other things she can do now, but she still needs help with everything all day.
Brad Means: What’s her house like? I would imagine it’s completely accessible at this point. Were there some changes that had to be made there? And I say that to point out the expense that’s happening to this family.
Miriam Ford: It has been an incredible expense. And no, her house is still not completely accessible. But we’ve made it accessible enough for now until we have the money to do more. We did get a ramp put in. The people at Augusta Mobility have been great helping us with that. It is a flat entry in through their garage. They have a split level house. So the downstairs room is the only one that she can really access easily. The ramp allows her to access the second floor of her house.
Brad Means: Let’s turn now… Yeah, I know. Let’s talk about Dylan, the third grader, the child who has had to witness all of this firsthand. He’s in that house with her. We are going to need some resources going forward to help this child. You do not expect a working mom to be taken out of the picture suddenly and with zero warning and to be in the situation that Gwen is. How’s Dylan holding up? And just how are his spirits in general? Our prayers are certainly going out to him big time.
Miriam Ford: Depends on the day.
Brad Means: Yeah.
Miriam Ford: Overall, he’s holding up okay. He’s doing a lot better now that she’s home. Her being in the hospital here in Augusta and then at the Shepherd Center in Atlanta for a few months also was great for Gwen, but it was really hard for Dylan to not see her for so long. So having her at home has been a big help. He climbs into bed with her and snuggles with her when he gets home from school.
Brad Means: And she knows he’s next to her.
Miriam Ford: Oh, absolutely.
Brad Means: Yeah.
Miriam Ford: He asks her questions about school and his homework and she gives him answers. And he asks her if he can have treats and snacks and she makes sure he’s eating something healthy. There’s still a great mother-son relationship there. It’s just slower communication than before. But overall, he’s doing well. Being in school helps a lot. He’s in his regular routine with his friends and his teachers. And EDS has been great for him in supporting him.
Brad Means: I know some friends were kind enough in the early stages to set up the Dylan Snead Educational Trust. This is a fund that can be used to help this child through his schooling and through the needs that he will have in that regard going forward. What’s the community response been like so far?
Miriam Ford: It’s been great. People have been very helpful and very kind. But we feel like there just aren’t enough people that know what we’re trying to do.
Brad Means: Now, it’s been very low key.
Miriam Ford: Yes. Yes, it has been. And and it’s because we’ve all been so busy working and doing so many things behind the scenes to take care of Gwen and Dylan. But we wanna get the word out. We want the help for Dylan to be sure that he has what Gwen, not was, is a teacher at heart. And his education is so, so important to her. And we want to be sure that he is able to continue getting the education that she wants him to have.
Brad Means: Are you getting the sense that there is a limit to how much insurance can help in situations like this? And I know this is something that’s better suited for the family to answer. But as a close friend, I mean, there’s a time when that money stops.
Miriam Ford: Yes, it does. And their insurance coverage was through Gwen’s job. And so that is running out. And there is some disability help that Gwen can get through the government, but that’s very small. And we’ve got a family of three that used to have two incomes and now they’re down to one. And the expenses for taking care of Gwen are astronomical and it all adds up very quickly. So yeah, insurance is not as big of a help as we all wish that it could be.
Brad Means: Yeah.
Miriam Ford: So we definitely need help.
Brad Means: What do the doctors tell you about your visits with her? Especially when there are other ladies there and y’all are trying to lift her spirits and you’re getting her to answer questions. Do the medical professionals tell you that that helps?
Miriam Ford: Yes, definitely. And anything that gives her a boost and helps her think in a positive way and just lifts her spirits is helpful ’cause that pushes her to keep working hard. And we’re after her all the time. We don’t let her rest much during the day.
Brad Means: No, good. She needs that.
Miriam Ford: Yes. Yes. She does need rest now and then. But there’s so many different things that she can do to keep working her mind, her body, and just build that back up.
Brad Means: Yeah.
Miriam Ford: So yeah, spending time with her and those visits that she has from all of us do make things a lot better.
Brad Means: Yeah, no, she needs that stimulation from y’all for sure. Well, we are making a plead to people to give to the Dylan Snead Educational Trust and help that sweet child get through his education and make sure that his needs are met. I mean, Miriam, you know as well as I do, it’s the end of the year, people are focusing on their giving and I hope a lot of that focus goes toward this.
Miriam Ford: I hope so, too. It’ll be a very different Christmas for the Snead family this year. And we want to try to help keep his life on track as much as we can.
Brad Means: Well, you’re a good friend and I appreciate you being with me.
Miriam Ford: Thank you.
Brad Means: Miriam Ford, talking about Gwen Snead. Our love goes out to you, Gwen. I know you can hear this and see this. And so know that we’re trying our best to help out. Y’all help her child, Dylan, won’t you? We’re gonna have the information for you in just a minute at the end of “The Means Report” so you can find out how exactly to help. It’s super easy. 3510 Wheeler Road, Augusta, 30909. Go there or mail something there to help sweet Dylan. You could also help shape future editions of “The Means Report,” it’s easy. You can do so via social media or email us. For Levi, Marlena, and the entire “Means Report” family, take care.