In fourth grade, while most kids were running around at recess, participating in extracurricular activities and attending sleepovers, 10-year-old Bryan Bode was recovering from a stroke.
Due a rare hereditary heart defect, Bode had a mitral valve prolapse, which he described as a “rare and weird occurrence.” What he thought was just going to be another after- school afternoon quickly became a life-changing event.
“I didn’t realize what happened to me,” Bode said. “I was paralyzed from the right side down. It was scary. They wanted to hold me back in school to recover, but I wanted to stay with my friends, so I did.”
After the stroke, Bode attended West Elementary in Lakewood, which had programs better suited for Bode’s condition.
“I took advantage of the programs and assistance they offered there, and I really thrived,” Bode said.
Now 43 years old, Bode lives in Crystal Lake with his wife, Kristen, also a stroke survivor, and credits his passion for nursing to his childhood struggle – one he said he did not face alone.
“Relearning was difficult. I had to do speech, facial and physical therapy. I didn’t know what to do, I saw what nursing did for me and how it helped me overcome,” Bode said. “I didn’t get here by myself. I stayed with it. I got help from teachers, parents, family members and friends.”
Bode said he knew health care was always in the cards for him after that, but it took a lot. He had to do some maturing and growing up. He received his CNA and EMT certifications. He was in MCC’s first graduating class for Registered Nursing and then went on to receive his B.A. in nursing from Northern Illinois University in 1992.
Bode worked at Sheltered Village during college and then became a wellness nurse at Pioneer Center in 2014, working with clients with intellectual developmental disabilities.
“I work with a variety of clients,” Bode said. “Some can hold down jobs, some can’t walk or walk or talk, but we always find a way to communicate. I see me when I look at them.”
His mother, Nancy Bode, who recognizes the passion he has for his work and not only the clients he helps, but the care and compassion he extends to their family members, nominated him as an Everyday Hero.
Katie McGee, 23, is a client of Bode’s with medical needs, one of which is a seizure disorder. McGee’s mother, Karen, is grateful to know that Bode is with her daughter to help relieve some of the anxiety she might have in conjunction with it.
“This brings about a lot of anxiety for Katie because she doesn’t know when she might have a seizure,” McGee said. “Knowing that Bryan is there to take care of her if something happens is really great for her. It’s comforting to know that there are people that care about your child and want to take care of them like you do. Without a program like this, they kind of get lost. Bryan goes over and above.”
McGee has seen Bode at many events that her daughter has participated in outside of his normal working hours, cheering his clients on and offering support.
“He’s genuine,” Pioneer Center day and community manager Joe Lawler said. “A lot of it is the relationships that we build with our clients. He’s great at that. He functions almost at times as a school nurse from small aches and pains to the more significant issues. He’s very attentive and has a really good way of working with the client. He’s very well liked. If he takes a day off, they all ask where he is.”
Lawler said Bode doesn’t shy away from working with people with higher needs and he gives people greater opportunity and takes harder responsibilities head-on.
“Avocation is a big deal at Pioneer Center and relative to the times and the care for our clients,” Bode said. “I enjoy what I do and I have that mentality. The support I get from the staff and the people I work with, who believe in this as much as I do, is really great. It has its ups and downs but you have this kind of person that has this need, and you do your best to try to help them and hope to watch them grow. You just have to be there for them.”