After his motorcycle accident, Joe Cavallaro emerged from a coma and had to relearn everything—what his name was, who his wife was, how to take a shower. Almost eleven years later, he’s still learning. As a student chaplain in Huguley’s Clinical Pastoral Education program, Joe is learning how to become a chaplain, how to facilitate deep conversations, and how to discern the spiritual and emotional needs of others.
The journey from February 15, 1997 to today is the story of hope. Many times, hope was ephemeral as Joe lay in a coma for two weeks, suffering from a traumatic brain injury and skirting the line between life and death. After a two-month hospitalization and six months of outpatient rehab, Joe was discharged to rebuild his life and his hope for the future.
With short term memory difficulties, dizziness, and double vision, returning to his furniture refinishing business was impossible. Joe requires structure, a slower pace and repetition to assist with his memory problems. “If I need to know something, I write it down because my notebook never forgets,” says Joe, who lives in Keene.
His HealthSouth Rehab Hospital supervisor, Dee Smith, recommended becoming a volunteer. Joe practices these coping strategies as a volunteer, and now as a student chaplain. In both roles, he brings hope to others.
As a volunteer at HealthSouth, he delivers mail with a side of hope to the patients there. He teaches a weekly Bible study with a special emphasis on the depression and hopelessness many patients experience after a life-changing accident. When he conducts the patient satisfaction surveys, he often delves into the deeper needs of the patients. He and his wife, Clara, mentor patients and their families, offering encouragement and support from someone who’s been there. And when he takes patients with brain injuries on excursions to shop or eat out, he exemplifies the hope that even if life is never the same, at least it may approach normal.
As a student chaplain, hope is a favorite topic when he leads the worship services. He even made a pamphlet detailing each time the word “hope” is used in the Psalms. He visits with patients and staff, actively listening and often praying with them. Most Huguley patients don’t know Joe’s remarkable story. “I’m there for them, not to talk about myself,” he explains.
“The experience of his own suffering and struggle yields an extraordinary level of care and compassion for others,” says Rev. Theo Stewart, Huguley’s director of pastoral care and clinical pastoral education supervisor. “His sense of humor is another aspect that endears him to people.”
When the chaplain internship concludes in February, what will come next for Joe?
“Through all of this, I’ve learned to depend on the Lord’s power, not on my own strength. I’ll trust in what He has planned for me.”