Back to the beat
Jason Wise knows what it’s like to almost die. That’s why he’s so focused on learning to live again.
A little more than a year ago, his own life had been spinning out of control, spiraling downward.
Overweight and battling sleep apnea, he spent more and more time at home and less and less time socializing. He developed pneumonia in spring 2016, but without health insurance, he decided not to visit a doctor.
“I had something going on with my respiratory system and chest, but I didn’t want to go in and run up a bill that I couldn’t pay,” Wise said. “I thought if I took over-the-counter meds, rested and drank fluids, that it would get better.”
It didn’t. In fact, it got worse. Much worse.
“It got to the point I was so sick I couldn’t do basic things like day-to-day hygiene and activities,” he said. “I didn’t realize how much fluid I had been retaining. A friend came by and said, ‘You look really gray.’ I was really bloated. She ended up calling an ambulance. By the time the paramedics got there, my oxygen level was 70.”
A healthy adult’s oxygen level should register in the high 90s.
The ambulance took him to Spectrum Health United Hospital in Greenville, Michigan, where doctors discovered about 100 pounds of fluid in Wise’s ankles, legs and chest.
“They wanted to do a scan, but because of my size they couldn’t fit me in the machine,” he said.
Paramedics transferred him to Spectrum Health Butterworth Hospital in Grand Rapids.
And then came near-tragedy.
“They unloaded me,” Wise said. “I remember going through the doors. After that, I don’t remember anything. Evidently, I coded in the ER.”
Doctors revived Wise’s heart, but he remained in a coma for a week.
When he finally came to, he didn’t know who he was or where he was.
“Just realizing it was a week later was kind of freaky,” Wise said. “Basically, the fluid that I was retaining, I was literally drowning in my own fluid. By the time I had gotten to ER, the fluid line was about to my nipples. It was overtaking me.”
Five days after he woke from his coma, doctors transferred Wise to Inpatient Rehabilitation at Spectrum Health’s Rehab and Nursing Center on Fuller Avenue, where he underwent physical and occupational therapy for four months, trying to rebuild his life.
He realized he had let himself go. He had become isolated. He had nearly given up. And his body had nearly given up on him.
His hope of a music career became stifled within the four walls in which he lived. The once-promising voice that auditioned for “The Voice” and performed in Nashville had fallen silent.
His motivation and spark for living? That fell silent, too.
His career path—a freelance graphic designer—led to more time alone, and more time within those four walls that almost suffocated his existence.
“I realized it was time to take some things head-on and really change my life,” Wise said. “Where I’m at today compared to where I was a year ago is night and day. I didn’t realize how much I had allowed myself to be shut off. I had created a really unhealthy situation just being closed off from people and not doing much to get outside my four walls.”
His near-death experience and the ensuing therapy changed all that.
Rebuilding a life
“I was very driven in therapy,” Wise said. “I knew if I was going to get better, I needed to take an active role. I really tried to push myself.”
When he tried a step machine, he asked his therapists if he could add that to his daily routine to add strength.
“The staff there was amazing,” he said. “I’m so grateful that they really worked with me and put me on the path to improvement. Every day I’m trying to make better choices and make my health a priority.”
Shannon Faas, Wise’s case manager during rehab, said she’s impressed with Wise’s progress and his willingness to give back at the car show.
“Jason was extremely motivated,” Faas said. “He felt that he was given another chance by God, to live the way God wanted him to and he wasn’t going to take that for granted. He has overcome every obstacle that has been placed in front of him, and continues to flourish in the community.”
And now Wise, 46, will be spinning tunes, serving as DJ and singing at the 11th annual Continuing Care Car Show on Saturday.
Faas, who helped Wise obtain a bi-pap machine after doctors discovered he suffered from sleep apnea, said she’s excited to hear Wise sing.
“Jason has kept in touch with some of the staff since he left,” Faas said. “He has sent audio clips of some of his songs that he has been working on. He is extremely talented.”
Physical therapist Patricia Westover agreed that Wise was extremely motivated in therapy. She’s cheering him on in his vocal ventures.
“He has the voice of an angel and that needs to be shared with the world,” Westover said.
Wise is trying to do just that. Before he got sick, producers from The Voice television show contacted him, asking if he would like to audition again.
After he regained strength, and health, Wise sent in the paperwork and an audition tape. He also recently learned he’s been selected to compete in the Ionia Free Fair’s Ionia Idol later this month.
“That (singing) was one of the driving forces when I was in rehab, doing my therapy and working on my breathing,” Wise said. “Through this whole experience I realized how precious life is and how important it is to take opportunities and do things because you don’t really know how much time you have left.”
Last year at this time, Wise was just entering rehab.
He said he feels honored to give back to the place that gave so much to him.
“It’s almost a year to the day of me being a patient,” Wise said. “Being able to give back is important to me. I’m just trying to make use of any opportunity that opens and I’m trying to learn to step out more. I’m trying to live again.”