Todd Maxim and his therapeutic recreation coordinator, Nina Thomure, poses for a photo and smiles.
Todd Maxim and his therapeutic recreation coordinator, Nina Thomure, toured Gerald R. Ford International Airport as part of a special behind-the-scenes tour. Todd worked with American airlines for years before a car crash changed his life. (For Spectrum Health Beat)

Planes weren’t the only things taking off at the Gerald R. Ford International Airport on a recent Friday.

For Todd Maxim, remembrances from his time working at the airport more than 25 years ago rose to the surface.

Nina Thomure, ADC, CBIS, therapeutic recreation coordinator for Spectrum Health Neuro Rehabilitation Services Residential Program, arranged for Todd to take part in a special, behind-the-scenes airport tour that day.

“It was amazing,” she said of Todd’s recollections during the tour. “He would see or hear something, connect how it used to be years ago, then share this history with the group.”

As they toured the mail hanger, Todd remembered a fire that destroyed the airport’s old mail room. He also shared how the airport hosted fireworks shows for the community.

As their guide explained how crews de-ice planes in the winter, Todd shouted out “glycol”—which is the chemical used in this process.

“He was so happy he got it right,” Thomure said. “He remembered.”

This might not sound so amazing. Except Todd suffered a traumatic brain injury and has lasting cognitive difficulties.

A young man’s dream

“Todd always wanted to be a pilot, to work with airplanes,” said Jane Maxim, his mother.

After high school, Todd took college classes and worked at the airport for American Eagle. He started out cleaning planes. He sorted baggage and worked his way up to the ground crew. He took every training class he could and progressed to ticket agent.

“He loved it,” Jane said. “His goal was to work at the American Airlines headquarters in Dallas.”

After additional training, more classes and tons of hard work, Todd made it. In September 1996, he started a new job as cargo analyst. On October 3, he had his accident.

On the way home from an outing with his American Airlines co-workers, the driver lost control of the car. It flipped several times and Todd was thrown out. There was nothing left of the car.

“They called and flew his father and me down to Dallas to say goodbye to him,” Jane said. “But we brought him back to Michigan. We wanted him home, although he never knew who we were.”

For three years, there was very little progress. No words. No expressions. Then, a few sounds.

He continued to receive intensive care and rehabilitation, and in 2004, Todd was able to move to a licensed adult foster care home on the campus of Spectrum Health’s Rehab and Nursing Center in Grand Rapids. There, he continued specialized therapy and began painting, singing, gardening and going on community outings.

“It’s been such a blessing to have him there,” Jane said of Todd’s living arrangements. “He’s absolutely thriving. The care is the best of best. We hoped for this, but didn’t expect it. He’s come a long way.”

She credits staff members like Thomure for believing in Todd and for diligently pursuing opportunities like this airport trip for him.

A caregiver’s special bond

“Nina and Todd are really connected. Those two are like sister and brother,” Jane said. “She knows exactly what to do for him. He loves her dearly. His whole world lights up when he sees her.”

Thomure jumped through a lot of hoops so Todd could join this special tour, complete with full security access, offered by the Grand Rapids Public Library.

Todd Maxim poses for a picture at the Grand Rapids airport.
Todd Maxim poses for a picture at the Grand Rapids airport. He enjoyed the tour immensely as it brought back great memories of his time working with American Airlines. (For Spectrum Health Beat)

“I wanted to trigger memories of a special time and special place for Todd,” she said. “He was so excited to see the ‘American Eagle’ signage and was just in his glory talking to the crew.”

He did seem a bit confused, though, by the amount of security and all the access restrictions in place. It wasn’t like that when he worked there.

When crew explained about the post-9/11 extra security measures, Todd echoed the sentiments of many travelers when he stated, “Oh, that sucks.”  Yes, he gets it.

Although he can access his long-term memory, Todd’s short-term memory is limited. He often forgets new things after about 10 seconds.

So Thomure took photos of their airport adventure to help Todd form and retain new memories.

It seems to have worked.

Jane recently asked him about his trip to the airport.

“It was wonderful,” Todd replied.

Spectrum Health Rehab and Nursing Centers provide skilled nursing, rehabilitation and long-term care services with nationally-accredited specialty programs for patients recovering from brain injury and stroke. To learn more, call 616.486.7056.