As a communication sciences and disorders major at Elmhurst College, Jordan Jakomin has learned a lot about the challenges facing victims of traumatic brain injuries. But it wasn’t until he spent three months working as an intern at the highly regarded Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago (RIC) this summer that he knew he wanted to make it his job to help people regain their ability to speak.
“It’s one thing to take classes and to learn things in a PowerPoint, but to live it hands-on, that made me realize that this was what I had to do,” said Jakomin, a senior from Arlington Heights. “I found my calling in life.”
For Jakomin, the RIC internship was a dream job. He had learned enough about the organization’s national reputation (U.S. News calls it the nation’s top rehabilitation hospital) to know that he wanted to get involved. But when he showed up there in the spring to ask about internships, the response was not encouraging. He was told that it would be months before he could even get in for an interview.
Jakomin was not deterred. Politely but persistently, he continued to plead his case.
“I told them how much I wanted to help people, and that if they gave me the opportunity, they wouldn’t regret it,” he says. “I didn’t think I had a chance.”
But his persistence paid off. Jakomin secured an invitation to an internship orientation session at the hospital, and there he impressed administrators so much that he was soon offered the internship he had hoped for, working on the RIC’s traumatic brain injury floor. He shadowed speech and physical therapists as they made rounds, sat in on exams, and learned to perform tests he had previously only read about.
But it was the time spent with patients that made the biggest impression on Jakomin. He became a regular visitor to patients’ rooms, keeping them company during the long hours between rehabilitation sessions and doing what he could to lift their spirits when progress was slow.
And he learned their stories. He met military veterans injured overseas. He got to know people working to recover from devastating accidents.
“These people are all struggling through. They’re all relearning how to walk and talk,” Jakomin said. “It’s intense. And it made me appreciate what I have and not take it for granted. We think we’re invincible, but in an instant your life can change.”
Most of all, though, the experience made him want to help.
“The idea of helping someone get their voice back is an amazing thing,” he said. “It’s what I want to do.”
Jakomin said he was grateful to the Niebuhr Center for funding his internship and for helping him learn about his calling in life. Though he describes himself as “not really religious,” Jakomin said the center helped him explore some basic spiritual questions.
“It’s a welcoming place, and they have this way of getting you to ask yourself who you are,” he says. “They helped me see how blessed I am.”
Jakomin continues to do what he can to help. While completing his studies at Elmhurst and preparing for graduate work in speech language pathology, he is working with adults and children with disabilities at the Northwest Special Recreation Association. And he returns to the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago weekly to work as a volunteer.
It’s a busy schedule, but he says, “It’s totally worth it.”