Kristen Stansbury always enjoyed playing with her dogs, Archer and Stormy. But when Kristen experienced a wave of dizziness, the 42 year-old’s life took an unexpected turn. An urgent visit to the emergency department revealed she had a stroke. Over the next week, she continued to seek treatment for her ongoing stroke symptoms with multiple doctors at various hospitals.
To her surprise, Kristen was diagnosed with an autoimmune disorder that caused her immune system to mistakenly attack proteins in her blood, causing blood clots that resulted in strokes. Recovering from a stroke may be one of the greatest challenges a person will ever face. Indeed, Kristen now faced many trials, including difficulty walking, slurred speech and slowed thoughts.
Once medically stable, Kristen transferred to Ochsner Rehabilitation Hospital to begin her journey back to independence. Upon arrival, the physician-led rehabilitation team worked with Kristen to put a treatment plan in place. She knew the long journey ahead would include treatment to restore physical function, gain strength, increase mobility, and improve her speech and swallowing.
On her first day of physical therapy, Kristen struggled to stand and walk due to both weakness and increased stiffness in her left side. Maintaining balance while sitting was equally challenging. She knew she had a long road ahead, so she got to work.
To improve her standing balance and increase strength in her left side, her physical therapist directed Kristen in toe taps, marches, side-to-side weight shifts and standing in front of a mirror for visual feedback on posture correction and balance improvement. Kristen also began walking within the parallel balls with significant assistance for balance, and she focused on moving her left leg. This activity proved especially helpful for her physical recovery and her confidence. She shared, “my physical therapist pushed me when I wanted to give up.”
Kristen soon progressed to walking with a rolling walker equipped with a device to keep her unresponsive left hand on the walker. At first, Kristen was only able to walk 22 feet with significant assistance. She continued to progress with walking and standing balance activities in the Litegait. This body weight support system allowed her to safely gain strength in her left side and perform more tasks without assistance. By discharge, Kristen was able to stand and transfer without assistance, walk over 300 feet independently with the rolling walker and navigate going up and down a curb.
Kristen also required significant assistance with everyday activities including bathing, dressing and bed mobility. Her left arm and hand were nonfunctional, posing obstacles to overcome. However, Kristen worked with her occupational therapy team and embraced the plan in place.
Therapists helped address her daily life challenges through kinesiotaping, a technique that uses elastic therapy tape for pain relief, and they employed ArmeoSpring, a wearable rehabilitation robotic that provides arm weight support during therapy. Kristen responded well to the treatment. When Kristen discharged home, she no longer required assistance with transfers, was able to dress her upper body and only required minimal assistance with lower body dressing.
Kristen's path to recovery wasn't limited to physical challenges. Speech therapy played a crucial role in her rehabilitation, focusing on improving her speech, swallowing and cognition. Electrical stimulation to her facial nerve, along with tongue twister exercises, helped improve her word pronunciation. She also completed exercises to improve her swallowing function, enabling her to eat regular foods again. She engaged in puzzles, executive function exercises and memory games to address her problem-solving deficits and decreased attention.
As she prepared to return home, she was most excited to reunite with her beloved dogs, and she plans to continue her rehabilitation with outpatient therapy. Her advice to others facing similar challenges: “push through, even when it feels like you’re not making progress.” Acknowledging the mental and physical strength required, Kristen celebrated each little achievement along the way, understanding that every step, no matter how small, contributes to the overall journey of healing.
Looking back on her experience at Ochsner Rehabilitation Hospital, Kristen expressed profound gratitude for the incredible support she received, saying, “everyone was amazing, positive and encouraging.”