After my stroke at age five, the doctors said I may never walk again; my physical therapist (PT) said “we’ll see about that.” That’s where my long road to becoming a PT began.
I had my stroke back in 1987 when I was five years old. I had a benign brain tumor that was a birth defect. By the time I was five, the tumor was golf ball sized and it had made itself one with my left middle cerebral artery. Up until the tumor was found, I was having seizures that were getting worse and worse. In the beginning, they were just daydreaming spells. But they gradually became more involved. My mom eventually took me to the local doctor when I was four years old. It was determine that I was allergic to milk without anything more than the most superficial of diagnostic tests. By the time I was five, the seizures consisted of the following: I would be playing with my older brother when all of the sudden I would go into a trance. I would then proceed to walk toward my mother and sit in her lap or stand by her side for a minute or two. She would frantically try to get me to respond during that time, but I could not answer. I would proceed to walk toward the bathroom, vomit and collapse. Allergic to milk… right.
My parents could only trust the original doctor so far and then decided to get a second, third and even fourth opinion to make sure the real diagnosis (dx) was found and sound. When the tumor diagnosis was confirmed at UMass Medical via CT scan and MRI, I was sent to Boston Children’s Hospital for surgery. Anyone who knows arteries knows how fragile they are, especially when a tumor has to be extruded off of one. Thus, when the tumor was extruded, my left MCA hemorrhaged leading to my stroke.
When I exited out of the OR (I don’t remember this, mind you), I stared up at my parents and then to the surgeon who had just saved my life and said “I… hhate… yoou.” He smiled up at my parents and said “no big deal, I get that all the time.” He was a doctor with a great sense of humor, along with just being a great doctor in general, because he saved my life.
My affected side (right side), was totally flaccid post-operation. On top of that, I had anomic aphasia. Textbook characteristics of anomic aphasia include trouble using correct names for people, places or things; speaking hesitantly because of difficulty naming words; difficulty finding words may be evident in writing as well as speech; reading ability may be impaired; and having knowledge of what to do with an object, but still unable to name to the object. I had every one of these characteristics at first, but I was able to work through them through speech therapy, which I had for six years after the stroke.
After the tumor extrusion surgery, the doctors told my parents that I may never walk again. The keyword there was “MAY,” but my parents took it as “Will.” That was until I started rehab. My PT was the first therapist I saw and my parents told her that the doctor said I WILL never walk again. The PT smiled and said “we’ll see about that; no prognosis is set in stone when it comes to stroke rehab.” This was from report from my parents later in life when I could comprehend such things.
It was through PT that within three months I could walk again and within six months I could run and play with the other kids. I kept having PT until sixth grade when my playing sports took priority over PT. Sure, I could walk and run, even though I had foot drop and lateral ankle instability, but my hand was a different story. I pretty much neglected my hand until my mom signed me up for Constraint Induced Movement Therapy for two weeks one summer while in high school. I retained my thumb and forefinger pincher grasp through this therapy, but I still neglected the use of my hand into my first year at college.
I went to Boston University for one semester of Aerospace Engineering and then one semester Astrophysics. All the while spasticity was actually increasing in my elbow, forearm/wrist and hand muscles. I saw this and also saw that my life wasn’t going the way I wanted it to. I ended up withdrawing from BU and taking a year off to re-assess my life.
That summer, I began to design my own therapy regimen with everyday household items (PVC Pipe, a basketball, pen and paper, cups, utensils, etc). With this I started to see some of my control returning and started to develop an interest for the first time in the rationale behind the rehabilitative therapy interventions I had been through. I then started shadowing local physical therapists to see what rehab was like from the perspective of the therapist. I was fascinated by their descriptions of the rationales behind their interventions. I wanted to know more both for myself and potentially for others if I was able to accomplish what it took to become a therapist. Thus, I started applying to and visiting colleges again and finally got into the Quinnipiac University Master of Physical Therapy (MPT) program.
Today, I am a PT licensed in the state of New York. I work in a skilled nursing facility wing of a local regional hospital in upstate. It is through PT that I have accomplished many of my life’s goals as well as still work on my ongoing goal of continuing to regain the control and use of my right hand. It is also through PT that I work hard every day to help people achieve their goals of regaining their functional mobility. Some people believe stroke is a curse. For me, my stroke was a blessing because it made me who I am today, a physical therapist who can truly empathize with the hard but rewarding work of rehabilitating through physical therapy.