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Carle Foundation Hospital therapy team celebrates graduation of former patient

Carle Foundation Hospital therapy team celebrates graduation of former patient
Shannon Voss’ second family hosted him for a surprise graduation party on May 24 in the Dr. Elizabeth C. Hosick Rehabilitation Center at Carle Foundation Hospital (CFH).

His second family is the therapy team at CFH.

Voss, 32, of Champaign, spent two years at CFH, from the intensive care unit to inpatient and outpatient rehabilitation, after a brutal assault left him in a coma with a slim chance of survival.

The care he received helped him to relearn activities of daily living and create a family.

“The treatment was fantastic,” Voss said. “After being in the hospital for so long, I consider the staff there family. I wouldn’t have wanted to be anywhere else.”

“I’ve had a lot of former patients in 24 years,” Monica Grizzle, PT, one of Voss’ former physical therapists, said. “I’ve never had anyone like Shannon.”

Voss comes back to visit the therapy team once a week.

“He finds joy in coming back and sharing accomplishments,” Renee Daniels, PTA, MSHA, director of rehabilitation and wound services, CFH, said.

“He inspires our inpatients,” Grizzle said.

The May 24 visit was a surprise party to celebrate his graduation from Parkland College.

In a break room in the rehabilitation center, cake was served and stories, tears and laughter were shared among the staff, Voss and his friend Amire Woolfolk. Voss communicated largely using an assistive communication device. He can speak but uses the device to have more fluid conversations. He types into an iPad, which converts his text into voice.

Voss has come a long way since he arrived at CFH in 2013.

Voss grew up in poverty in Chicago, worked hard and was valedictorian his senior year in high school. His next step was the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign, where he was a full-time student as he worked full-time.

In 2013, to celebrate the end of finals, he went to a bar alone to get a drink. He was assaulted and soon was in a coma and admitted to CFH.

His diagnoses were numerous. Among them were complications of viral encephalopathy, a brain infection that resulted in physical and cognitive limitations.

When he was admitted to CFH, he couldn’t talk or move his arms and legs, Sonya DeWitt, OT, Voss’ former occupational therapist, said.

When Voss woke up from his coma, he contemplated taking his own life. Then, he had a dream that he was graduating from college.

“He’s a very goal-driven person, and that stuck with him,” DeWitt said.

With the support of Carle Health team members, he moved from the intensive care unit to the acute floor to the rehabilitation center.

“He literally had to relearn everything,” DeWitt said. As he relearned how to speak, he would sing the Katy Perry song, “Roar”.

“Carle staff has been a root for me,” Voss said. He credits DeWitt with being “more than a therapist. She supported me throughout everything.”

After two years with Carle Health and another four years at a rehabilitation center in Chicago, he returned to Champaign and moved into Eden Supportive Living. He was then able to take care of his daily living needs and wanted to restart his education by enrolling at Parkland.

To take on the next chapter in his life, he had to make peace with the challenges he experienced growing up, including forgiving the man who assaulted him and himself for contemplating suicide.

“If you stay stuck in your past, you’re going to trip over your future,” Voss said. I can’t control a lot of things. I can control how I respond to situations.”

He entered Parkland in 2021. Just two months later, his mother died. “The person who loved me unconditionally, my source of strength, had left. I was shattered and lost. But I was committed to school.” He began writing poetry to process his pain as he continued his studies.

During his final two semesters at Parkland, he earned a 4.0 grade point average. He graduated from Parkland in May 2024 and was asked to deliver the commencement address.

“Graduation was a day I will never forget,” Voss said. “When my name was called, as I took each step to receive my diploma, I stepped on all my insecurities, all the times I felt hopeless and I stepped on the old me who thought suicide was an option.”

Voss said he would like to be a motivational speaker or a counselor. He plans to continue to write poetry.

Voss said his message is “Take time to realize all the good things in your life.”

He continues to inspire patients and team members during his weekly visits to the inpatient rehab unit at CFH. “The reason I continue to come to Carle after my time here is I consider you all family and no matter where life takes me, I will never forget you all.”

Daniels said the therapy team couldn’t support Voss and other patients without the patient-centered approach to care of the health system.

“We’ve been afforded the time to invest in relationships like this,” Daniels said. “Our team is the best team for patients needing therapy. We reach people.”

“I may be disabled,” Voss said. “But I am not defeated.”

DeWitt smiled. “We’re hearing him roar.”

Learn more about Carle Health Therapy Services at

Categories: Culture of Quality

Tags: disability, rehabilitation, therapy