The morning of Oct. 14, 2012, wasn’t a typical Sunday for Rev. John Ranney. The 60-year-old retired pastor substituted at the pulpit of a church in Cordova, Maryland, and then stopped for lunch in Easton. The plan was to drive to Ocean City to attend a meeting. Plans changed when Ranney had a stroke.
A woman in line behind the pastor noticed him fumbling with his change and insisted employees call an ambulance. “I argued with her. I couldn’t imagine I was having a stroke,” Ranney said.
“He just didn’t fit the high-risk profile,” said his wife Margo. “He walked three miles every day. He saw his doctor regularly. Sometimes people feel they could have done something differently, but sometimes things just happen.” Still in his clerical clothes, Ranney was taken to a hospital in Easton. “I appeared to be functioning fine,” he said. But just before he was released, he had a massive stroke, and was air-lifted by helicopter to a medical center in Baltimore, Maryland. “They told my family I would never walk or speak again.”
The couple shares memories of feeding tubes, a life support system, and, on Oct. 17, a surgery called decompressive hemicraniectomy to reduce swelling of the brain. A portion of Ranney’s skull was removed and stored in a freezer until he healed and could have it surgically replaced. He couldn’t sit and could only communicate by tapping.
But they also recall the outpouring of support from the community — the cards that covered the wall of his hospital room and the prayers. “It’s the prayers of all those people that kept me here,” he said.
While Ranney may not remember a lot of details about his month-long hospital stay, he does recall his intention to recover.
On Nov. 7, he was transferred to Bayhealth Milford Memorial’s Inpatient Rehabilitation. The rehab team works with patients to address their physical and medical challenges following strokes, spinal cord injuries, cardiac events, brain injuries, trauma, limb amputations, neurological disorders, and orthopaedic conditions.
Brie Willis Wyatt, a speech therapist and an alumna of Milford’s Second Street Kids — the children’s community theater group Ranney founded many years prior — worked with Ranney. “She met me and sang a song we used to sing,” said Ranney.
The hospital stay was arduous. Ranney had three hours of therapies every day: speech, physical, and occupational. He also had the support of staff and other patients. “The first time I walked the length of the parallel bars, everyone applauded,” he said.
At the time, the Ranneys lived in Angola, their post-retirement home near the beach. But they couldn’t go home upon discharge because there were physical obstacles, such as stairs, and limited accessibility. Ranney needed a hospital bed, and required visits from nurses and therapists. So for a year, they moved in with their son Drew and his wife Natalie in Milford.
Ranney returned to the hospital in Baltimore in April 2013 to have the piece of his skull replaced. Following the surgery, he started outpatient physical therapy at Bayhealth Milford Memorial, going three times a week for three months, taking a break, and “going back for tune-ups,” as he called the ongoing therapy. “The goal is to eliminate the need for a wheelchair. I do exercises at home all the time, but I still can’t sit in a booth or a chair without an arm. The paralysis remains in my left side,” he said.
Before the stroke, Ranney was the conductor of the Southern Delaware Chorale. As their first big social outing after the stroke, the couple attended the spring 2013 concert, and Ranney received a standing ovation. There were other milestones along his journey toward recovery: being able to hug Margo for the first time in months, mastering the car transfer so they could go out, singing again, and preaching for the first time after the stroke in July 2017.
“Faith, family, and friends are the most important part of my recovery,” he said. The adaptations and relearning are ongoing as he works toward singing, reading music, and following musical scores again. “This is the new normal,” Ranney said. “We have to be the best children of God we can be.”