On January 21, 2010, I was 34 years old when I was injured in a serious car accident with a drunk driver. I was alert and responsive at the scene of the accident but taken to St. Francis Hospital in Poughkeepsie, NY for treatment of a broken nose and finger. I remember arriving at the emergency room in the hospital and the entire accident. The next thing I recall was realizing that I was on life support in the hospital and was unable to move my neck, left arm and my left leg. After I was taken off life support, my family and a neurologist explained to me that I had suffered five bilateral ischemic strokes while in the emergency room at St. Francis Hospital. I was airlifted from there to Westchester Medical Center in Hawthorne, NY and placed in the neuro-ICU unit. The strokes were a result of a rare injury sustained in the accident. The extreme whiplash in the accident tore both my internal coreartid artery and my vertebral artery. The doctors were unaware what effects the strokes would have on my life because of the rareness of such an injury.
On January 28, 2010, the swelling of my brain had diminished enough to allow me to be transferred to a step-down room in the Neurology unit of Westchester Medical Center; it was there that the extent of the damage and imitations were more fully realized. My speech was slurred and at times incoherent, I had complete left side neglect, and my cognitive abilities went from a Master’s level education to an elementary level. I was unable to do the most basic tasks like holding my head up, and feeding myself. I also had visual perception issues and limited vision in my left eye and no left side peripheral vision. I often felt fatigued after a small amount of activity.
It was at Westchester Medical Center that I took my first post stroke steps. My balance left much too be desired and I truly felt as though I was walking on cue balls. This was the first time that I fully realized that amount of work that lay before me and comprehended why I was being informed by all parties involved that I would need intensive in-patient rehabilitation. I remember feeling very proud of my attempt to walk and very scared at the same time of going to a rehabilitation hospital.
On February 12, 2010, I was transferred to Helen Hayes Hospital in West Haverstraw, NY to begin intensive in-patient rehabilitation consisting of physical, occupational, speech, recreational and massage therapies. For five days a week six hours each day, I worked through the pain, fatigue and frustration to strengthen, coordinate and move my left side while retraining my brain of the simplest things I would do without even thinking about it.
With the help, support and encouragement of my therapist, nurses, and my doctor: Dr. Greenberg and my family and friends I relearned the basic tasks I had lost from the strokes. Each one played a crucial role in keeping my spirits up, maintaining my focus and determination to achieve my goals in rehabilitation.
On March 18, 2010, I had progressed enough to be discharged home to my husband and my cat, Coyote. I was walking with a cane when I began my out-patient therapy regimen at Northern Dutchess hospital in Rhinebeck, NY. I was receiving speech, physical and occupational therapy three times a week to assist in my rehabilitation. By July 2010, I had completed speech therapy, and was walking on my own without the cane. I only needed physical and occupational therapy twice a week. In December 2010, I completed all therapy and achieved all goals set for me regarding my out-patient therapy.
I quickly grew restless at home and I felt the need to give back to the community. So, I joined a stroke support group that quickly led to me volunteering at a hospital within the in-patient rehabilitation unit. I assist, support and provide encourage and inspiration to patients of stroke and various joint replacement surgeries as they work toward achieving their rehabilitation goals.
By April 2011, I was ready to learn to drive again. On the recommendation of my occupational therapist and my neurologist I had to complete driver rehabilitation to drive again. So after numerous lessons with Driver Rehabilitation of the Hudson Valley and my husband, I earned the privilege to drive independently by June 2011. In August 2011, my husband and I purchased a vehicle for me to replace the one destroyed in the accident.
Currently and two years post stroke, the lingering effects of the strokes are spasticity in my left arm and hand that is treated with periodic botox injections, and a permanent loss of the peripheral vision in my left eye. I am still volunteering at the hospital, and I continue to attend a stroke support group once a month. I am also working towards a Post Master’s Certificate in Rehabilitation Counseling so that I can become eligible to sit for the National Vocational Rehabilitation Counselor Certification Exam. My ultimate goal remains regaining my financial independence so I am working with a vocational rehabilitation agency to achieve this goal.
The lessons of being a stroke survivor have taught my family and I have been profound. We can never take anything for granted and the simple fact that the human spirit can overcome any trauma that the body suffers. There is life worth living after stroke. To keep us grounded in this message, my husband and I have made a tradition of visiting Helen Hayes Hospital to thank the therapists and medical staff that assisted me on my journey to a new normal for me.