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Teacher's road to recovery ends in classroom

After what will be a 14-month absence from the classroom, John Hahn is finally going back to work as an art teacher.

But he’s nervous.

Even though he has worked in a school for 21 years, he doesn’t know what to expect when he returns Jan. 29 to Founders Elementary School in DeKalb.

“I worry about working for eight hours five days a week and seeing what kind of toll that takes,” Hahn said. “We’ll have to take it slow.”

That’s because 13 months ago, an aneurysm in Hahn’s brain ruptured. It happened at 7:10 a.m. Nov. 21, 2011, when Hahn entered the bathroom of his Aurora apartment.

“I just dropped like a sack of potatoes,” Hahn said.

Luckily for Hahn, his wife, Ginger McQueen, was home and checked on him after hearing him fall. She found him against the bathroom door, making guttural sounds. Hahn fell on the right side of his body, injuring his shoulder and hip. His eyebrow also was cut open and blood was everywhere.

Hahn was rushed to Provena Mercy Medical Center in Aurora. He had a heart attack en route to the hospital, but the doctors didn’t check his brain until McQueen said he had been suffering from severe migraines. They discovered the ruptured aneurysm, and airlifted him to Provena St. Joseph Medical Center in Joliet.

It was there, Hahn said, where neurosurgeons saved his life.

“One of the surgeons told me that a third of the patients never get to the hospital,” McQueen said. “Another third spend their life in a nursing home, and the other third have deficits to varying degrees. ... We’re very, very fortunate.”


Hahn said he doesn’t remember anything from the time in the bathroom to about three days afterward. But his initial prognosis wasn’t good. McQueen said she was told he had a grade 4 bleed.

Brain aneurysms and their effects are graded on the Hunt and Hess scale, which rates their severity. The higher the grade, the lower the chances of survival, with grade 5 being death.

“We were given very little hope that there would be much of a recovery,” McQueen said.

But Hahn recovered. After staying in intensive care for 15 days, Hahn went home. McQueen, who just began a job at a hair salon in Aurora, became his 24-hour nurse. Hahn was in bed for the next six months of recovery – sleeping about 20 hours a day.

Nearly 13 months after the aneurysm ruptured, Hahn said he has only a few health issues. From what he knows, he didn’t suffer any brain damage. Long-term memory wasn’t affected, although he’s not sure about his short-term memory. His vision has faded and his hip and shoulder still hurt from when he fell.

In time, he added, it will all be fixed.

“Somebody was looking out for me,” Hahn said. “But everything worked out as far as they could work out for my survival worked out. ... Everything kind of just fell into place.”

A few days before his aneurysm ruptured, Hahn went to a health clinic and told the doctor he had been suffering migraine headaches and had trouble seeing. He scheduled an appointment to see a neurologist the next week, but Hahn and McQueen didn’t pay much attention to it.

That’s because in addition to working full time, Han also was pursuing his doctorate. McQueen said he would come home from an eight-hour day to spend another seven or eight hours in front of the computer.

“So, for him to say I have a headache was kind of easily dismissed and I don’t think we gave it the weight we should have,” McQueen said. “But we didn’t know. We went to a doctor and he didn’t know.”

Hahn and McQueen said he has received a lot of support from teachers and students at the district. Some of the teachers donated food and gift cards to the couple, while a number of kids made get-well cards for their art teacher. One card read: “Mr. Hahn, please don’t get another concussion again. You can’t teach art if you’re bleeding in the head.”

McQueen said, “being able to sit down and read these” to which her husband said, “it was therapeutic, really.”

In addition to Founders, Hahn also taught art at Malta and Tyler elementary schools on a rotational basis. District 428 Superintendent James Briscoe described Hahn as being excellent and said the district is looking forward to his return.

Briscoe said he is unaware of any special accommodations being made for Hahn, but he said they would examine any request from Hahn as necessary.

“If he had a doctor request, we’d have to take a look at it and find out how to accommodate him,” Briscoe said.


Hahn and McQueen have made a number of lifestyle changes. They eat healthier and they no longer go out to eat. Hahn works out, but he tires easily. They’ve moved from Aurora to Sycamore. But in honor of Hahn’s recovery, they also celebrated his birthday Nov. 21.

They have plans for the future. McQueen is planning on enrolling in Kishwaukee College for a marketing degree. As for the doctorate he was working on, Hahn was eight credit hours away from completion.

“I’m considering going back. I’m not sure,” Hahn said. “I kind of like having this reflection time without having the burden of writing 50-page papers every week.”

But right now, Hahn’s attention is his return to school.

“I’ve been gone for a full year plus,” Hahn said. “I’m scared to death because I don’t know what to expect. I don’t know how much I’m going to be able to handle. I could lie to myself and say, ‘Oh I’ll be fine, I’ve done this for 21 years.’

“In reality, you stop doing something you’ve done for 20 years for a full year, you’re going to have some anxiety.”

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