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Successful stroke recovery requires a team approach

May 09, 2019

Successful stroke recovery requires a team approach

A stroke can be devastating. It changes your life in ways no one can predict, both mentally and physically. It can happen to anyone, at any age, even those in good health. But it’s what happens after the stroke that makes all the difference, and Molly Roock is a great example.

Roock is a 29-year-old nursing assistant. On Christmas Day, she woke with neck pain followed by a headache the day after. Thinking nothing of it, she went about her day, but the pain worsened. Three days later, Roock couldn’t make it to work and soon had a fever, followed by vomiting. Her father took her the Emergency Department at Soin Medical Center, where a CT scan showed something difficult to believe: Roock’s brain was bleeding.

“Working in the emergency room, I never saw anyone younger than mid-30s who had possibly had a stroke,” Roock said. “The second I’m told I did, I immediately think, ‘That’s not how it works!’ I don’t smoke. I’m not unhealthy. And yet, I’m definitely one of the few it still happened to.

“I never had the classic symptoms, and I was always fairly healthy,” Roock said. “If something in your gut is telling you something is wrong, it’s time to listen to your body.” She was transferred to Kettering Medical Center, where she stayed in the intensive care unit for five days. It was there she learned she had suffered a stroke.

Individualized care plan leads to success

Christina Garrity, PT, DPT, NCS, is a physical therapist with the NeuroRehab and Balance Center at Kettering Health Network. Her job is to coordinate the NeuroRehab and Balance stroke recovery team and support group.

Patients come to her team once they have returned home, are released from inpatient rehab, and have finished with home health care. “We offer long term care, often when patients are living at home independently or with the help of family,” Garrity said. “We work with the patient until we help them reach their goal.”

After a stroke, education is vital. “Our job is to apply the best evidence-based therapy,” Garrity said. “You can fill therapy time with exercises, but if it’s not the best possible practice and use of the time, it may not provide the ideal outcome. We tailor the treatment to each individual’s needs to get the greatest results in the least amount of time.

“Our clinic is set up for the neurologically compromised population specifically,” Garrity noted. “We have occupational, speech, and physical therapy all in one location.” The patient may also need a great deal of help and support from outside resources to help at home, and their case manager assist with that.

In Roock’s case, walking and talking were a major challenge. “The first time they got me up to walk, it was almost like a car sitting there, burning out. My legs kept going up and down, but they wouldn’t go forward,” she said about her therapy. “I couldn’t say what I wanted to say, so I spent most of the time writing notes. My handwriting looked like someone in kindergarten. I knew exactly what I wanted to say, I just couldn’t get it out. It’s like you are trapped and screaming inside your own body.”

According to Garrity, the hope always is to regain same level of activity the patient had before the stroke. Sometimes that means using modified techniques or equipment to allow for functional independence.

The goal of therapy is to use the brain’s own ability to create new routes and pathways around the damaged tissue, so it can be retrained. The patient’s deficits are identified, and the therapists design activities and exercises with a lot of repetition, enabling quicker formation of those new pathways.

Next, the patient is provided with tools and adaptations within their living environment to make it easier. This can include devices such as canes and walkers, specialized bathroom equipment, splints for hands and glasses for sight deficits. Sometimes complications from a stroke can cause involuntary muscle contractions in the hand, so occupational therapists provide tips and tools to help patients do more on their own.

After a 17-day hospital stay, Roock began outpatient therapy at the NeuroRehab and Balance Center to prepare herself to return to work by improving her endurance. She continues to attend speech therapy today. “The NeuroRehab team has done more for me than I could ever imagine, and it still makes me cry, thinking back to their support,” Roock said.

Stroke recovery is a marathon, not a sprint. It’s a long-term endeavor greatly dependent on the patient’s commitment to the process—and it’s a team effort. The credit for Roock’s success is shared equally between herself and her therapy team.

Roock would like to continue to do what she can to raise awareness of what she’s been through. “I want to be an advocate for this,” she said. “It’s not something you see, a 29-year-old having a stroke, surviving, and getting back to 80% after four months. I worked my butt off, and I want to do what I can to help others.”

If you or someone you love is seeking an individualized stroke recovery plan or support after having a stroke, contact the Kettering Health Network NeuroRehab and Balance Center at (937) 401-6109  or the Stroke Survivors Club at (937) 395-8226.