By Mardi Link
INTERLOCHEN — Cruise control, 82 mph, cut to black, then a fleeting
image of a good Samaritan who stopped to help and called 911.
Lewis remembers these scant details from March 2019, when he was
driving on US-31 near Ludington, suffered an epileptic seizure and
crashed his truck.
Twenty minutes, four broken ribs, a broken collarbone and a traumatic brain injury later, Lewis regained consciousness.
“I came to, I knew things weren’t right and I vaguely remember people
coming up to my window with the Jaws of Life,” Lewis said. “Then
nothing after that.”
Since the accident, Lewis has lived with his
mother, Chris Lewis, in a house filled with art in the woods near
Interlochen State Park.
When he smiles, the expression comes on quickly and envelopes his whole face.
loud high-pitched “cuk-cuk-cuk” sound interrupts an interview with a
reporter, Dwight stops mid-sentence, holding up an index finger.
“Pileated woodpecker,” he says, and there’s that smile.
brain injury from the crash was actually Lewis’ second — multiple skull
fractures in a 2011 skateboard accident not only caused the epilepsy,
but put him into court-ordered guardianship — and working his way back
to health and autonomy hasn’t been easy.
Lewis, 40, who’d trained
as a chef, not only had to learn how to cook again, he had to re-learn
how to drive, use a cell phone, handle his finances and get along with
other people, including his mother.
“My injuries have caused me to
burn some bridges between both my friends and my family,” Lewis says in
a text, sent days after the interview. “My goal and mission now is to
rebuild those bridges.”
Dwight moved in with Chris, and she became
her son’s court-appointed guardian after the skateboard accident, but a
few months after the highway crash, both agreed the arrangement was no
Traumatic brain injuries can result in something
neurologists call “flooding,” in which a healing brain is overloaded by
outside stimuli, making it physically impossible for a person to
regulate their emotions and behavior.
“We argued a lot then,”
Chris said. “He was often angry, which I understood, but it got to the
point where we needed outside help.”
and conservatorships are a protective measure often associated with
older adults, when a judge decides because of illness or memory loss,
someone can no longer make their own decisions.
Younger people also can be appointed guardians by the court, often as the result of a catastrophic injury like Dwight’s.
of age or the reason for the guardianship, a review of probate court
records by the Record-Eagle in more than a dozen Michigan counties shows
court oversight often becomes permanent by default.
speaking, there’s an attitude that cognitive impairments don’t get
better,” said Sheila Englehardt, a professional guardian in Roscommon
County who is not connected to the Lewis case.
“Once someone is in the system,” Englehardt said, “it’s like this continuing rotation.”
committed himself to years of hard work — occupational, speech and
ocular therapy, an in-patient stay at a neurorestorative program, months
in a residential setting learning to live companionably alongside
roommates, plus regular appointments with a psychiatrist.
“When he sets his mind to something, that’s it,” Chris said, “that’s Dwight.”
Earlier this month, his efforts paid off.
On Sept. 12, Dwight
stepped off the “continuing rotation” of court oversight, after
successfully petitioning Grand Traverse County Probate Court Judge
Jennifer Whitten to terminate his guardianship.
Lee Storch of
Guardian Services of Northwest Michigan, who succeeded Chris Lewis as
Dwight’s guardian, told the judge she supported Dwight’s decision and
helped him file the petition.
Both say Dwight’s abilities improved under guardianship.
skeptical as I was, it helped me and it helped my mom,” Dwight Lewis
said of the time he spent as a ward of the court. “I do know that has
not been everyone’s experience.”
Record-Eagle reporters in August
2021 began examining records in Michigan’s probate courts and have since
reported a steady stream of worrisome accounts ranging from family
isolation to outright theft.
These previous stories involved
people of means and those on fixed incomes, people who live
independently and those who require residential care, those with close
family members and those without, but all had one thing in common: They
began with a judicial decision meant to protect them by appointing a
guardian or conservator.
Decades of reform attempts by governors,
attorneys general and legislators have so far failed to alter the
Michigan judiciary, which controls guardianship procedures and calls for
probate courts to collect paperwork and keep records, but gives probate
judges little enforcement power when things go awry.
familial and professional guardians in recent months have faced criminal
charges after being accused of embezzling from clients.
recent case, a Macomb County woman, Lisa Ludy, was charged with nine
felonies and could face up to 20 years in prison after being accused by
Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel of using Community Guardian Care,
Inc., to conduct a criminal enterprise.
Nessel said in a press
release that Ludy’s company was appointed guardian and conservator for
an unnamed victim, then stole more than $100,000 from Social Security
checks, an inheritance and proceeds from the sale of the victim’s home.
of guardians and conservators — acting as fiduciaries — serve in their
roles without running afoul of the law. Professional guardians like
Storch say it is hard to find qualified people, when guardians who serve
those on Medicaid are paid less than $100 a month per client.
said she is researching ways to turn her company into a nonprofit
organization to seek alternative funding and have support from an
“What we do is not all about the money,” Storch said.
has more than 30 guardianship clients at any one time; she and her
partner, Tracy McCain, provide limited and temporary services to as many
as 50 others, she said.
Dwight is the only client she’s worked with who has “graduated” from guardianship, she said.
he began making — and keeping — medical appointments, working a
part-time job at Oryana West, maintaining a good relationship with his
mom and his girlfriend, and got his driver’s license reinstated, Storch
said the court didn’t need to be involved in his life.
“When all this started for me with the court, I had no hope,” Dwight said. “Then I began making some goals.”
Dwight said after the hearing, he and his girlfriend, Annette Abraham, went to Colorado for the weekend.
They toured Red Rocks amphitheater, where Dwight asked Annette to marry him.
She said yes.
Full Article & Source:
Interlochen man beats the odds on guardianship