A year and a half after retiring as a power plant manager, Joseph Bergeron, 68, was enjoying his days bicycling, golfing and spending time with his family and friends. One day, he woke up from a nap to find his left arm numb. He thought the feeling would go away over time, but the odd sensation in his arm remained. Sensing something was wrong, he called out to his wife, Mary, who took him to the local emergency department. The doctors there immediately transported him to Ochsner Medical Center in New Orleans for a full stroke work-up. Doctors discovered Joe had just experienced a hemorrhagic stroke, meaning that a blood vessel in his brain ruptured. Joe spent several days in the neuro ICU.
After more than a week in the acute care hospital, Joe transferred to Ochsner Rehabilitation Hospital to continue his recovery. Upon admission, he had no control over the left side of his body and experienced issues with sitting or standing upright because his body would lean to the left. Just to get from the bed to a wheelchair, Joe required the assistance of at least two or three people. He set goals for himself which included being able to walk again and returning to his two favorite hobbies: playing golf and bicycling.
Joe’s occupational therapists focused on daily living activities. They provided strategies and adaptive equipment to help him become more independent with bathing and dressing. They also worked on improving strength and mobility in his left arm and hand. Joe said the activity he remembers most was trying to grab small chips with his left hand and place them in a small hole, like a piggy bank. He found it frustrating at times, but knew it was very helpful to regaining control of his hand.
In physical therapy, Joe practiced sitting and standing straight up while placing a mirror in front of him. This provided visual feedback and allowed Joe to re-learn where the center of his body was. “Standing up was one of my hardest earned achievements,” Joe said. To improve his core strength, physical therapists had Joe practice getting in and out of his wheelchair with progressively less assistance. They also used the LiteGait, a body weight support system, which provided the extra support Joe needed while he regained his strength. Joe vividly recalls the moment he knew he would reach his goal of walking again. “One Friday afternoon, my therapist strapped me into the LiteGait and walked me all the way down the hall moving my feet for me. That is when I knew I was going to do it.”
Joe continued to progress and after 26 days, he was ready to return home. By discharge, he was walking more than 200 feet with a narrow base quad cane and was able to play putt-putt golf with his physical therapist. He also left able to perform all his daily living and self-care tasks with independence.
After returning home, Joe continued with outpatient therapy but unfortunately suffered a second stroke. His wife noticed he was not as strong and steady as he had been, and he was complaining of a terrible headache that was not getting better with Tylenol. The doctors were unable to tell if his second stroke was a re-rupture or a completely new hemorrhage. Once Joe was medically stable, he returned to Ochsner Rehabilitation Hospital for another 13 days. Fortunately, he maintained a lot of the progress he made during his first stay, and was functioning at an even higher level at the time of his second discharge.
Joe attributes his success not only to his own hard work but also to the therapists who never let him give up. “This experience made me a believer in the rehabilitation process.”