Two people who crossed paths in rehab hospital count their blessings

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(WOWT) -- This Christmas, two people who crossed paths during rehab at the hospital, came together at Westside Church’s annual Christmas pageant to count their blessings and spread the faith.

A year ago, John Abkes of Omaha broke his neck on a family vacation in Mexico when a wave slammed him face-first into the beach.

“I was told I had a 40% to live,” he said.

For months, he worked with the team at Madonna Rehabilitation Hospitals in Lincoln and Omaha to regain his strength and mobility.

“I still have numbness,” he said. “My fingers and toes don’t always work. But’s it’s an amazing recovery that I can’t explain.”

At times, during therapy, he would see another patient on the road to recovery, Hannah Matthew.

“I’m shocked at the muscle I lost,” she said.

A mystery illness had turned the Elkhorn dance teacher into a shell of herself.

When we caught up to her at Nebraska Medicine last spring before going to Madonna, she explained her worst conditions. Her heart had operated at 20% and she had lost 40 lbs.

“The 4-months in the hospital, I pretty much cried every single day,” she said.

She spent her second wedding anniversary in the hospital cafeteria.

Hannah Matthew looks and feels so much better these days. “I’m doing what I love to do and I’m doing ministry with my husband as a youth pastor. I’m so blessed and excited about it every day.”

For the Christmas season, both Hannah Matthew and John Abkes are taking part in Westside Church’s annual Christmas pageant. For 31-years, the west Omaha church at 150th and Dodge has been putting on the program for thousands every year.

“This church did a lot for me,” said John Abkes, who worked behind-the-scenes at the pageant in previous years. “God saved me for a reason.”

This year, he is on center stage and plays the role of match-maker in the program. During the third song, he walks in front of the spotlight with Hannah’s real-life husband, Conner, who walks over to her and asks her to dance.

“To think of where I was last year, and here I am dancing. I’m so grateful,” said Hannah Matthew, who months ago wondered if she would ever dance again. She’s also back to teaching dance.

It’s a Christmas gift the two wanted and needed to share with others as they celebrate living.

The two will be up on stage again this weekend at Westside Church. Tickets are available at or click here.