Jennifer Deane, a 45-year old attorney, lives in Washington, DC. She likes to keep busy and enjoys traveling, hiking, watching movies and spending time with friends and family. Jennifer was visiting her parents, who live in Slidell, Louisiana, when her entire life changed. She was doing her normal Pilates exercises one morning when she suddenly began to feel dizzy and noticed weakness in her left arm. Her parents rushed her to the emergency room at Slidell Memorial Hospital, where the staff immediately noted Jennifer’s elevated blood pressure. She was then transported to Ochsner Main Campus for scans of her brain, which revealed that Jennifer had suffered a stroke on the right side of her brain, affecting her mobility on the left side of her body. In addition to being diagnosed with hypertension, Jennifer was also diagnosed with diabetes.
Before her stroke, Jennifer was very active and healthy, so she was shocked by her diagnoses. Immediately after her stroke, it was difficult for Jennifer to understand the gravity of the situation. However, she became more hopeful about her recovery when she began to see some strength return to her left leg.
Once medically stable, it was time for Jennifer and her parents to decide where to continue her recovery. Ultimately, Jennifer decided on Ochsner Rehabilitation Hospital due to the great care she received at Ochsner Main Campus and the size of the rehab gym.
When Jennifer arrived, she required the assistance of two people to help transfer in and out of bed. She was only able to stand with assistance in the parallel bars and was initially unable to walk due to left leg weakness, fatigue and difficulty with balance. Additionally, Jennifer had impaired coordination and decreased sensation along the left side of her body. Her personal care needs from bathing to grooming and getting dressed also required assistance. Jennifer’s physician-led team of nurses and physical and occupational therapists devised a plan to get her on the road to back to independence.
In occupational therapy, Jennifer’s therapists worked quickly to improve range of motion and motor control in her left arm, which were significantly impacted by the stroke. She also learned new techniques to perform personal care tasks using adaptive equipment and worked on sitting balance and posture, as she occasionally leaned to her weakened side.
Jennifer’s physical therapists focused on improving her standing and mobility, including transferring from laying down to sitting to standing. To help, they utilized a standing frame, a device that uses a lift system to assist a patient stand. In order to prepare Jennifer for walking, her physical therapists worked on standing activities in the parallel bars, including weight shifting and alternating leg lifts. These activities improved the strength and enabled her to bear weight through her left leg. However, Jennifer was still struggling to walk, so her team began to use the LiteGait, a body-weight support system, to help her relearn the mechanics of walking safely.
After several sessions in the LiteGait, Jennifer was ready to begin walking with the use of a hemiwalker, a one-sided walking device for individuals with weakness on one side of the body. Jennifer’s motivation and perseverance led to her great gains in both physical and occupational therapy. Soon, she was able to bathe while seated in the shower with assistance. Jennifer had also progressed to the point where she was able to get partially dressed while sitting and then complete the task while standing and holding on to the grab bars in the bathroom with assistance from her occupational therapist.
After three weeks at Ochsner Rehabilitation Hospital, Jennifer was able to eat her meals and brush her teeth independently and complete all of her personal care tasks with minimal assistance. She was thrilled to be able to bathe and put on her socks and shoes without assistance. Her mobility had improved as well. Jennifer was able to walk 200 feet with minimal assistance while using a narrow-based quad cane and an ankle foot orthotic, a device to assist with foot clearance when walking. She even conquered going up and down stairs with minimal assistance and transfer positions with only hands-on assistance for steadying.
Jennifer’s parents underwent family training so they knew how to assist her after she returned home. With some additional recovery to go, Jennifer stayed with her parents’ immediately after discharge and began outpatient occupational and physical therapy three times a week.
Jennifer was happy to share that her left leg continues to gain strength and she is working hard every day to regain function in her left arm. She credits her parents with being great supporters of her recovery, as they continue to assist her in her daily routine. In addition to outpatient therapy, Jennifer has been keeping busy since discharge with brain puzzles, reading, listening to music, talking with friends, performing her home exercise program and practicing walking.
While reflecting on her journey, Jennifer stated that a large goal in her life was always to remain independent and not be vulnerable. However, she says, in one instant, she had to learn how to accept help and be vulnerable. She also had high praise for her Ochsner Rehabilitation Hospital team: “The staff was so well-qualified. Everyone took the extra step, like taking the time to put my hair in ponytail for me. It’s been a wonderful experience, and it’s worked so well.”
For others recovering from a stroke, Jennifer shares, “Your body will decide your timeline, so don’t get discouraged with plateaus or the recovery process.”