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Hard road
 back for Hahn

District 428 art teacher returns to classroom

DeKALB – The road to recovery hasn’t been easy for John Hahn.

Fourteen months after suffering a ruptured brain aneurysm, Hahn found himself back in his art classroom Tuesday at Founders Elementary School. But the physical part of the job – standing and walking for eight hours a day – was too much for him Wednesday.

“It was really physically difficult for me to get out of bed,” Hahn said. “It was just too much.”

His plan to jump back into teaching eight hours a day was derailed. On Wednesday, Hahn decided to work half-days the rest of the week. But on Thursday, he said he was too sore to work. He worked a half-day Friday and plans to work half-days through Feb. 15.

“I didn’t think the physical stuff would be the hardest part,” Hahn said. “I thought it would be the emotional part, the anxiety.”

After Hahn suffered his aneurysm Nov. 20, 2011, the prognosis was not good. Brain aneurysms and their effects are graded on the Hunt and Hess scale, which rates severity. The higher the grade, the lower the chances of survival, with grade 5 being death. Hahn had a grade 4 bleed.

“We were preparing for the worst at one point,” Hahn said. “The doctor told my wife, just short of get funeral arrangements, that it was pretty dire. And I was sitting there thinking, ‘What can I do if I can’t teach, or if I am not able to teach?’ ”

But Hahn eventually recovered, with no brain damage. He said his long-term memory was not affected, and he feels his short-term memory has improved. Although his wife might argue differently, he said with a laugh.

What hasn’t recovered yet, has been his body. When Hahn fell in the bathroom at his apartment that November morning, he injured his hip and shoulder. However, he didn’t feel those injuries until he was weaned off his pain medication.

Also hindering him is the inactive lifestyle he had forced upon him by the aneurysm. For months, Hahn slept 20 to 22 hours a day.

Physically, he felt like a slug, he said.

“I wasn’t able to exercise,” Hahn said. “And my back is suffering for it. My leg is suffering for it. Regularly, just walking up and down hallways, going through the normal school days; that’s usually enough exercise to keep my back in shape.

“But I haven’t done that in 14 months. My back is in so many knots right now, it’s killing me.”

Hahn said he is going to physical therapy, and is back on a regular sleep schedule. He also has a pedometer to track of his movement. By the end of the day Tuesday, he had walked 2.3 miles.

Officials with District 428 have been there to support him. Superintendent James Briscoe and Assistant Superintendent Doug Moeller said they each have spoken with Hahn on how they can help him with his transition.

“He said he didn’t need any special accommodations,” Briscoe said. “At the same time, he understands it’ll take some time to get back in.”

Moeller said both he and Connie Rohlman, the head of the district’s human resources department, have told Hahn they are flexible if he needs to work half-days.

“Both as a teacher and as a district, we’re so glad John has been able to make a great recovery and get back to work,” Moeller said.

Hahn said he ran into parents of his students this summer, and many of them wished him well.

“They pretty much knew that if I couldn’t come back, I wouldn’t come back,” Hahn said.

Helping Hahn on his first day back was Paula Trzynka, the substitute teacher who has been teaching art to elementary school students. Hahn has an eight-day rotation as a D-428 art teacher. He will spend four days at Founders Elementary School, two days at Malta Elementary School, and two days at Tyler Elementary School. He estimated that he would see 150 students a day.

“I figured I would go about with what I usually do and he would fill in whenever he felt necessary,” Trzynka said.

In one class, Trzynka instructed students on that day’s lessons while Hahn passed out the basket of crayons to the different tables.

In the days before he returned to the classroom, Hahn said he was filled with anxiety. That changed when he parked his car Tuesday at Founders Elementary School. He was ready to do this, he said.

For Hahn, teaching is perhaps the only route available to him. He has ruled out disability for teachers, and he would not make enough for it to be beneficial to him.

“The thing went into my mind: What if I have some kind of relapse?” he said. “What if I’m unable to teach? What am I going to do? That’s all I’ve ever done as a career, is teach, and I’ve done it for 21 years.”

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