Last updated on May 13th, 2019 at 02:27 pm
Tom Rave: Banker overcame brain and heart illnesses
By Steve Jagler, SBT Executive Editor
In July 1997, Tom Rave was in the prime of his life at the peak of his career. At age 52, he had just been hired as a vice president at Norwest Corp. in Milwaukee. Rave, his wife Kathleen, and their sons, Dan and Tim, were preparing to move that week to a new home in Brookfield.
In one day, his life changed. Forever.
"It was a Monday. I thought I had the flu. So, I stayed home Tuesday in bed," Rave recalls. "My wife came home from book club that evening, and I sat up in bed, and I couldn’t get words out. I couldn’t say them. Being a stupid male, I thought we’d wait to morning to see what was going on."
Kathleen drove him to Elmbrook Memorial Hospital in Brookfield. That would be the last thing he would remember for several days.
The doctors at Elmbrook conducted some initial tests, and Rave was transferred by ambulance to St. Joseph Regional Medical Center in Milwaukee, where he was diagnosed as having encephalitis and viral meningitis. With a swollen brain, he was unconscious for five days.
"I was a mentally gone puppy. I couldn’t speak.
I couldn’t swallow. I didn’t know what was going on. I was not in touch with reality," Rave says.
As Kathleen stood at her husband’s bedside, the doctors asked her if she wanted them to insert feeding tubes into her unresponsive husband.
In the midst of that daunting conversation, Rave suddenly awakened.
"There was a sudden miraculous turnaround, and for whatever reason, as they were having that discussion, I looked up at the TV screen and saw a baseball game on and suddenly said, ‘Gee, I wonder who’s playing?’"
Rave had regained consciousness, but his ordeal was far from over. He had to relearn how to walk, how to talk and how to feed himself.
"For me, eating peas was a real challenge," Rave recalls.
Although he had only been on the job for 90 days at Norwest, which ultimately became Wells Fargo Bank, he was able to take advantage of the company’s short-term disability insurance package to cover the costs of his ordeal and his recovery.
He returned to work 10 weeks after he was stricken.
"My boss’ boss, whom I met twice, sent me a letter, saying, ‘Glad to hear you’re doing better. Take as long as you need to get yourself healthy and come back to work when you’re really ready.’ I thought that was superb," says Rave, who has been in the banking industry for 35 years. "I owe this company something, because they really stood by me. The company was wonderful. It literally brought me to tears – a company that values people as human beings."
To this day, Rave and his doctors can only guess that the brain swelling was caused by mosquito bites.
The condition still affects Rave’s memory from time to time.
"I usually try to deal with those situations with humor," Rave says. "Sometimes, I see somebody I know, and I have trouble remembering them, but I usually just need 10 minutes to kind of go through my mental Rolodex to remember."
And there was one unexpected bright outcome to his traumatic illness. "My golf game actually got better. I actually had to learn a slower, smoother swing," Rave says with a chuckle.
However, Rave’s health took another twist on Sept. 12, 2001, the day after 9-11. Rave was working as usual in his office in the 100 East building in downtown Milwaukee, when he suddenly was unable to speak to his coworkers.
He was rushed by ambulance to Sinai Samaritan Medical Center in Milwaukee. After two nights of tests, doctors determined he had suffered two strokes.
Eventually, Rave made five visits to the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., where he learned his heart had a septal defect – a hole in his heart. Mayo surgeons had just received permission that week to use a new medical technique that enabled them to insert a catheter into his heart and repair the defect.
Had he not gone to Mayo, he likely would have had to undergo open-heart surgery in Milwaukee.
Today, Rave is grateful for all of his blessings, including each new sunrise.
"Every day is wonderful. Every day is a great day to be alive. I’m a happy person. Something can happen just like that," Rave says, snapping his fingers.
Rave is active in the community, as he serves on the board of directors for the Wisconsin Foundation for Independent Colleges and as chairman of the resources committee for that organization’s College Readiness 21 program in Milwaukee.
"Enjoy life for what it is," Rave says. "Every day, I’m glad to get up and about."
Dec. 26, 2003 Small Business Times, Milwaukee