They still talk about that Christmas.
“Oh, it was sad,” Sonya Brous says. “You didn’t get to cook the dinner, you didn’t get to be with your family. It took a mental toll on me.”
The 52-year-old spent Christmas 2015 at Madonna Rehabilitation Hospital.
Two months earlier, Sonya was on her honeymoon in Jamaica. A newlywed who had found her mate, Marc Brous, both of them divorced parents and delighted to be in love again.
But the honeymoon was miserable. Sonya grew weaker by the day, sleeping for hours, unable to finish a short walk on the beach.
Later, doctors would say she had contracted the coxsackie virus before they left home in Lincoln. The normally innocuous relative of hand, foot and mouth disease attacked her heart and left her in a wheelchair as they rushed through airport terminals to get home.
Her heart stopped twice that night at Bryan East Campus, where she’d worked as a nurse for 17 years.
She spent eight weeks at UNMC — five of them in a medically induced coma — and then a month at Madonna to regain her strength, her heart permanently weakened.
“I always wanted to do something for Madonna,” the former patient says. “I got such great care, everyone was so positive.”
On Monday morning, Sonya and Marc were preparing to head over to the rehab hospital.
“Every year about this time we talk about how hard it was,” Marc said. “We started thinking, ‘What can we do to help someone in that situation?’”
A few months ago, the couple hatched a plan: a traditional Christmas dinner for the hospital’s pediatric patients and their families and staff members working on Christmas Eve.
They’d hand out gift cards for the young patients to Smoothies & More, the shop they’d opened in Clocktower Shopping Center just six weeks ago.
Marc called Doorstep Diner Catering to see if they’d be available to fix the meal.
“He called me out of the blue,” said owner Laurie Fraser. “He said, ‘I have this idea,’ and I said, 'I’m in.'”
Fraser volunteered to discount the meals by 50 percent, and when dinner for 28 turned into dinner for 40 after a new patient was admitted, it wasn’t an issue.
“She said, ‘Don’t worry about it, if you can cover half, we can cover half,’” Marc says.
And just before noon on Dec. 24, the food arrived in the pediatric unit. Turkey and ham and mashed potatoes and gravy, green bean casserole, cranberries, salad, rolls, pumpkin pie.
Before they left for the hospital, Sonya said she planned to spend most of her time in a chair.
She’s on the heart transplant list, but categorized as inactive now because her heart grew strong enough for doctors to take her off the portable machine that helped keep it beating.
But they don’t know what the future brings.
She can’t work at the smoothie shop — even though it was her idea.
“I can’t do much running around,” she says. “But I’m a social person, I like to sit and talk to people.”
She did some of that on the eve of Christmas 2018.
Talking to teenage patients and their parents and their nurses and therapists, but she did it standing.
Handing out dinner rolls and dishing up green beans as they filed gratefully through the line.
“I know what it’s like,” she says. “That’s why we’re doing this.”
Another Christmas at Madonna to talk about in the years to come.