Highland News Leader

Highland mayor presides over first meeting since breaking neck, back

On Monday, Highland Mayor Joe Michaelis presided over his first City Council meeting since falling down his basement steps nearly three months ago.

“I’m really excited to come back,” said Michaelis, who suffered a broken neck and two thoracic vertebrae fractures in his back during the Jan. 25 fall. “I think coming back is going to enhance my recovery by getting back into the swing of things rather than sitting in a nursing home.”

Michaelis, 64, was welcomed back with a standing ovation from the audience as he entered the council chambers, walking with a walker and City Manager Mark Latham following closely behind with a wheel chair.

He later left the meeting in the same fashion, this time with Shaun Voegele pushing the wheelchair as Highland Police Chief Terry Bell and Lt. Chris Conrad flanked Michaelis while he slowly walked up a small incline inside chambers. While leaving the chambers, Bell asked Michaelis why he didn’t wear his neck collar.

“My doctor said I had to wear it for only 12 weeks. It’s 12 weeks today,” Michaelis replied.

Several people welcomed the mayor back, including state Sen. Kyle McCarter, R-Lebanon, and Soundra Rinderer, president of the American Legion Auxiliary Unit 439, who sold the mayor a poppy.

McCarter said he attended the meeting only to show his support to the mayor.

“His return is a testament to the residents of Highland,” he said. “Like the residents, Michaelis is a hard worker and fighter. A number of people in his situation would have either quit, or stayed at home and tried to enjoy their life.”

Rinderer told Michaelis it was “such a blessing to see the great progress” he was making.

“Certainly all of the prayers, well-wishes and out flowing of love and concerns of the community has shaken the walls of heaven, and God is going to richly bless you with a speedy recovery,” she said.

About a month ago, Michaelis talked with Latham about his recovery plan. He said then that he was going back to his mayoral duties on April 20.

“I had to come up with a date to meet that challenge,” he said.

Michaelis has been making steady progress. He walked 100 feet with a walker last week — a huge stride from the first two steps after his fall, which measured about five inches apiece.

“It was a start,” he said.

Michaelis is now starting to take a few steps without the walker. He said his legs are now at about half the strength they were before.

Michaelis said his commitment stems from the people who wrote him cards and encouraged him not to give up.

“They said, if there is anybody who could beat this, it would be me,” he said.

Without those letters and kind words from citizens, Michaelis said it would have been probably very easy for him to “throw in the towel, because every physical therapy session is so painful.”

“This is the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life,” he said.

Michaelis now has therapy 90 minutes, daily. He also puts in another 90 minutes of therapy on his own, and he is looking forward to swimming at Korte Recreation Center in Highland again — one of his other goals.

One might think it lofty considering the effort it took just a few weeks ago for him transition from his wheel chair and attempt to sit on the edge of his bed for the first time.

“I would lose my balance, and fall left and right,” he said.

But today Michaelis can make the transition on his own. He can also write his name, stack blocks on top of each other and use kitchen utensils.

His hands are still weak, though.

“I still can’t take a bottle cap off,” he said.

However, he hopes he can do that on his own, soon. He can now squeeze a small piece of Styrofoam with his left hand.

“After my fall, I couldn’t even do that,” he said. “I could only move one finger and thumb.”