Jamaica nursing home residents reflect on healing journey

Marcus Hyman, who suffered a stroke earlier this year and has regained some strength in his left arm and leg. (Photos: Carlotta Mohamed/QNS)

Jonathan Gilliam, 57, of Richmond Hill, and Marcus Hyman, 56, of Cambria Heights, aren’t letting their medical conditions deter them from living life. Both men, who are receiving treatment at the Holliswood Center for Rehabilitation and Nursing in Jamaica, have shown resilience in their journey toward healing.

Gilliam, who is a Type 1 diabetic with a right amputated leg below the knee, has spent time at three rehabilitation facilities — the Plaza Rehab & Nursing Center in the Bronx, the Chapin Home for the Aging and the Holliswood Center.

Gilliam’s right leg was amputated in July 2020 at Jamaica Hospital, and he uses a prosthetic leg to get around more easily. While living at home, his left heel became infected and he was receiving home wound care.

“I would sit on the steps and push myself up the stairs with my left foot and that formed an abscess, which turned into a big hole,” Gilliam said. “That’s when I went back to the hospital and I was transferred to the Holliswood Rehab Center.”

Gilliam also contracted COVID-19 prior to his hospital admission from his niece and got tested at the hospital after feeling shortness of breath.

Gilliam’s wound has been healed through physical therapy. He has learned how to walk using a boot where the foot “floats” so he doesn’t apply pressure on it when he gets out of his wheelchair. When he is discharged soon, he will continue to do therapy at home, he said.

“The physical therapy here is great. My physical therapist was taking me out to the hallway to the staircase walking up and down one flight of stairs. It’s very helpful,” Gilliam said. “I walk from my room out there and back by myself now. They were doing it with me before and followed behind with the wheelchair.”

Every morning at Holliswood, Gilliam makes his own bed. Although he said the nurses clean his room, he tries to keep it as neat as possible.

“None of these people are going home with me. You have to be able to do these things when you get home,” Gilliam said.

Gilliam’s goal is to simply heal and go home to spend time with his 93-year-old mother. He says his journey has been an experience, and he doesn’t take life for granted.

“I love life. You can get up in the morning and be miserable and angry at the world, but it doesn’t change anything. If you don’t change how you see things, nothing will ever change,” Gilliam said. “I get up in the morning, pray and thank God he gave me another day on this earth to make a difference in my life or anyone else’s life.  You gotta make the best of the day, and the next day.”

Jonathan Gilliam, whose right leg was amputated in July 2020. (Carlotta Mohamed/QNS)

Gilliam would love to travel to Egypt, and although he has never owned a car in his life, he said it would be nice to turn on music and just go for a drive.

“When you turn around, and you’re 90 years old and say, ‘What have I done with my life,’ I plan to have no regrets in my life,” Gilliam said. “I might not have done everything, but I’ll do as much as I can. I’ll have memories to hold me down.”

Before his medical condition, Gilliam worked in energy and construction and had a job at the MTA. Additionally, he was a therapy assistant working with autistic children at the SCO Family Services Center in Queens.

“I loved it. It’s not easy because of their behavior just like everyone else, but you grow to love your clients,” Gilliam said. “I like to help people as much as possible.”

Gilliam was also a drug counselor but left the job since it took him back to a place he didn’t want to be.

“I refuse to be unhappy because I was unhappy for so many years in my life — being addicted to drugs and not fulfilling my life. God gives you an opportunity to make a difference. You have to be positive and be proactive in your life,” Gilliam said.

Meanwhile, Hyman, who is recovering from a stroke on the fourth floor, lives by his philosophy of not stressing the small things in the present moment and instead looking forward to the future.

“I will get 100% better from this. I don’t sit and dwell on what the problem is right now. I think forward and think ahead. For example, when I played football and hurt my ankle in a game, I thought about the next game and when my ankle is better,” Hyman said. “I always move forward.”

In January, Hyman suffered a stroke on the left side of his body. According to Hyman, he had felt some numbness in his face, slurred speech and lost his balance when he stood up and fell back on his bed.

“When the football game came on, that’s when I recognized I had a stroke. My right side was supporting the left side of my body. When I tried to get back up, I couldn’t lock my knee to stand up. That’s when I called my mom, and she called 911.”

Hyman had stayed at Valley Stream Hospital for 10 days before he was discharged and went to Holliswood. He had lost all feeling on the left side of his body, unable to move his arm and leg. After going through physical therapy, speech therapy and occupational therapy at the center, Hyman has regained 80% strength in his left leg and 40% in his left arm.

Through Jintronix, an easy-to-use virtual rehabilitation platform designed for physical and occupational therapy combining rehab movements, virtual games and motion sensing cameras, Hyman has started to gain control of his middle section and is able to walk with a small walker. His speech has returned back to normal.

Though he’s overweight and not diabetic, Hyman has lost a total of 80 pounds since leaving the hospital and checking in at the center. He plans to continue losing the weight, as it will relieve some pressure on his knee.

Hyman said he is thankful to everyone at the center who has helped him in his recovery process. He is hoping to return to his favorite thing: mixing music and DJing at events.

As a DJ, Hyman has played at churches, birthday parties, bar mitzvahs, beach parties and house parties. Though he has slowed down a bit due to his left arm, he is determined to be back in the swing of things soon.

“I like for people to have a good time through what I’m doing,” Hyman said. “I can’t even tell you how many weddings I’ve done — there was a point I was averaging about 16 weddings a year.”

While laying in bed at Holliswood with his portable speaker, headphones and laptop, Hyman is able to work on some remixes.

“I want to get back into DJing and doing parties. I grew up in Brooklyn in Linden Houses and every year for the past 15 years or so there’s been an event called Linden Day allowing residents to come out and do a barbecue. I will return next year. Nothing will stop me from doing that,” Hyman said.

More from Around New York