As the father of two young children and his family’s main source of financial support, Ray Topper knew it was a good idea to sign up for short term and long term disability benefits at work. But he never imagined how soon — and how critically — he would need them.
In 2009, Ray Topper suffered a devastating stroke at the age of 39, leaving him with limited use of his left side and unable to work.
“One of the doctors said he didn’t think I’d have use of my left arm again,” says Ray, who is left-handed and works in information technology.
As a result of his stroke, Ray was limited in his ability to lift, carry, reach or hold objects with his left hand. He was also unable to drive. But he was determined to recover and return to his job at a cleaning system manufacturer, where he has worked for more than 10 years.
Unum’s vocational rehabilitation consultants worked with Michigan rehabilitation services and Ray’s physician to perform driving and ergonomic evaluations. To help Ray return to work, experts recommended ergonomic equipment, including a height-adjustable work bench, sit/stand stool, left dynamic hand splint and voice-activated software.
Unum purchased the equipment and arranged on-site training to help Ray learn to use it. Unum vocational rehabilitation specialists Catherine Rogers and Christy Searcy stayed in constant contact, helping him develop a plan to return gradually to work.
“They encouraged me in everything as I worked to the next level,” he says. “They called me all the time and talked about the plan, the therapy, making sure it was all going well and the checks were coming and I was getting the disability payments and the equipment I needed.”
By November 2009 — eight months after his stroke — Ray had returned to work two days a week, for four hours at a time. In December, he increased to six hours at a time. By December 2010, Ray was back at work four to eight hours a day, five days a week.
In March 2011, after 14 months of return-to-work planning, evaluation and rehabilitation, Ray returned to work full time. And in the fall he was able to begin driving again. He has regained most of the use of his left side, though he wears a brace on his left leg and has become far more proficient at using his right hand to type.
When he signed up for disability coverage, Ray says, he did not realize how much it would help him earn a living — and keep his career on track — as he regained his health. “It’s quite nice to be able to continue to support my family,” Ray says. “I want to be able to do that and to prove that I can — just to be able to do that to make it this far — is very pleasing.”
“The support is what helps you get through this kind of thing. Our friends, our family and Unum were so helpful and encouraging over and above what you would ever expect from any company.”