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 - Main Hospital
 - Main Hospital

Tears on the Diamond

Photo of Donny Lindsey and Oklahoma State Softball Team 2024

The Cowgirls Softball team ended its historic season with a trip to the Women’s College World Series. Among the many victories celebrated this season was one that took everyone by surprise. Donny Lindsey, an avid softball fan, expected to be cheering on the team from the stands, but after a life-altering stroke in late March, the tables turned. 

Donny has dedicated his life to sports. After retiring from his career as a coach and educator eight years ago, he moved to Perkins so he could attend as many Oklahoma State University games as possible. Over the years, he and his wife, Jackie, enjoyed many sports, but there was something about softball that captured their hearts. Donny made every game he could - rain or shine.

Until he suffered a stroke that prevented him from participating in basic daily tasks including standing, walking, and using his left arm. He arrived at the Stillwater Medical Center Rehab Unit discouraged by what he had lost but determined to keep going. 

“When I first got there, I couldn’t even lift my left arm. They work with you all the time and it’s hard work. I was cussing and crying, but I told myself to take it a day at a time,” Donny said. “Before I knew it, they had me up and walking.” 

After about 3 weeks of rehab, the therapists and the OSU Softball team surprised Donny by bringing him to Cowgirl Stadium to put his remarkable progress on display. 

“Gajewski was there, and he had me walk the bases. I didn’t think I was gonna make it, but they were all cheering me on. It was really something,” Donny said. 

Donny’s trip around the diamond wouldn’t have happened without Liberty Wright, a certified occupational therapy assistant who was among the team of therapists working with him. They had an instant connection bonding over sports and coaching experiences. Wright had aspirations of being a coach herself before she decided to go into the medical field. She was determined to help him improve his mobility so he could get back to the things he loved. 

“My goal is so much more than getting patients back home again. What motivates me is getting them back to the things they love most,” Wright said. 

Over the years, she’s gone above and beyond to help patients tap into their passions. From playing piano in the rehab unit to roping a goat in the SMC parking lot, the extraordinary becomes part of a normal day’s work in patient-centered therapy. 

“I want to empower our team to think outside of the box,” said Katie Jones, Director of Rehabilitation Services. “I appreciate that they care enough to learn about their patients and know what’s important to them. Integrating that into something that’s meaningful fills their cup and keeps the patients going.” 

Jones leads 18 therapists, including Wright, who work together to serve acute care and rehab patients. They regularly meet as a team to discuss patients’ unique needs and interests. Donny’s wife, Jackie, observed this first-hand. She was by Donny’s side every step of the way.

“People don’t realize what a special thing we have in the therapy team. They are helping people get their motivation back and get used to the new normal without losing what they loved before,” Jackie said. 

Wright will be quick to tell you she doesn’t work alone. The therapy team enlists the help of the Stillwater community whenever possible, and they’ve found an abundance of helpers like Coach Gajewski and the Cowgirls. These community members are ready to give what they can to create magical moments like the one Donny experienced. 

“From my first day, the goal was to get him back into the softball field,” Wright said. “I didn’t tell him that because you never know where the journey might lead, but he started to make progress.” 

Wright and the team introduced small things at first, like hitting off a tee to exercise motor skills and placing Jackie on Donny’s left side so he could practice turning his head by looking at the woman he loved. Sometimes it’s hard to see progress in the middle of therapy, so keeping patients engaged and motivated is always at the forefront of their minds. After about a week and half, Jackie was astonished when she pulled up to the hospital and Donny was walking, with his therapists on each side.  

When Donny’s time at the Rehab Unit was coming to a close, Wright took a chance and called the Cowgirls Softball team to see if they would host Donny during one of their practices. The team went above and beyond to welcome them and spend precious moments with Donny. 

“When I received a call asking if Donny could come out to practice and do some of his rehab at our field I was incredibly honored,” Gajewski said. “We talk about ‘The Cowgirl Way’ in our program a lot. It stands for relentless, excellence and passionate. After watching Donny walk the bases and rally our team, it was clear to me that he exemplifies ‘The Cowgirl Way.’ We are cheering on Donny in his road to recovery!”

Donny and Jackie describe it as a day they’ll never forget. The experience of being on the field and in the dugout with the team was incredible. But more than that, seeing the faces of the therapists light up as they watched Donny’s progress is the moment Jackie treasures most. 

“There are small hospitals like Stillwater who are doing wonderful things for their patients,” Jackie said. “This is their job, but they are doing it in such a special way. Nobody ever sees that. Everybody needs to know the amazing things they’re doing in Stillwater.” 

Story written by Abby Fox.

Donny Lindsey celebrating with Oklahoma State Softball team

Stillwater Medical Center
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