It all started with a raccoon encounter in February.
Ronald Courtney of New Orleans, Louisiana, was about to leave for work when his wife, Alicia, approached him. She explained that their neighbors had a raccoon in their yard and couldn’t let their dogs out. They were hoping that Ronald, a shuttle driver for Acadian Ambulance, would chase the critter away. Always happy to lend a helping hand, he headed outside and got rid of the raccoon, getting quite an adrenaline rush in the process.
On his way to work, Ronald felt strange. At first, he just assumed it was from all the raccoon excitement, but when he realized he was having trouble focusing and afraid to change lanes, he started to worry.
He still wasn’t feeling well when he arrived at the office and went to find his supervisor to let him know he wasn’t going to be able to drive that day. Ronald happened to come across two co-workers, both of whom were EMTs. When he explained that he didn’t feel right and needed to sit down, they did a glucose test and took his blood pressure. The glucose test came back with a reading of 450 and his blood pressure was sky-high. By this point, his supervisor had learned what was happening and told Ronald that he needed to go to the hospital. His co-workers started an IV and transported him to the emergency room. On the way, Ronald was still able to move his hands and feet and speak normally.
When he arrived at the ER, a physician asked Ronald a number of questions. As he tried to answer, he began having difficulty getting the words out and started experiencing double vision. The hospital staff acted quickly, running a battery of tests that determined Ronald was having a stroke in the part of his brain that controls breathing and the ability to chew and swallow, among other things. Further testing determined that there was a clot in Ronald’s left pontine artery, but that it was not at immediate risk of bursting.
By this point, Ronald’s condition was declining rapidly; he couldn’t move his hands or feet, his vision was seriously impaired and he could barely speak. Ronald was given a clot-busting drug to slowly dissolve the clot and admitted to the ICU, where he spent the next four days. On his second day in the hospital, Ronald’s vision started to return, and by the third day, he was able to move his fingers slightly. He was moved to another unit in the hospital where he spent five days doing physical, occupational and speech therapies, making small improvements each day.
When it was time to move to an inpatient rehabilitation hospital to continue his recovery, Ronald chose Ochsner Rehabilitation Hospital because, in his words, he “has been an Ochsner patient ever since I was a kid” and believes that Ochsner has some of the best hospitals in southern Louisiana.
Ronald’s main goal was to get out of the hospital as quickly as possible so that he could get home to his family. Despite making some progress before coming to Ochsner Rehabilitation Hospital, Ronald required almost total assistance to walk, transfer and self-propel his wheelchair. He had little movement in his right hand and wrist and needed assistance with toileting, dressing, showering and getting in and out of bed.
His physical therapy team focused on improving his ability to walk, balance and transfer, progressing to the use of a rolling walker. He worked on increasing his general strength using the SciFit StepOne reclining stepper, resistance bands, weights and dynamic standing balance training. As part of his program, he also received stroke education.
To help with stretching and strengthening Ronald’s fingers, his occupational therapists introduced the Bioness H200, a wireless hand device that stimulates nerves and muscles to reeducate weak or paralyzed muscles. They also work with therapy putty to increase pinch and grip strength. As his range of motion improved, Ronald used the Armeo® Spring, a robotic training tool that incorporates an interactive program on a screen to help develop arm strength and coordination. As a video game fan, Ronald said he especially enjoyed using this equipment.
His therapists also worked with Ronald using mirror therapy, which he admits he was skeptical about, but it proved to be the first time that he was able to move his hands and wiggle his fingers, just by looking at a mirror. Ronald said that reconnecting his brain to his hands was the turning point in his recovery and a huge milestone, adding that it was the only time during his recovery where he actually shed tears.
Three-and-a-half weeks after admission to Ochsner Rehabilitation Hospital, Ronald was discharged; he had advanced at such a fast pace that he was able to leave five days earlier than planned. He was able to walk 150 feet with a rolling walker, get in and out of a car with minimal help, walk over uneven ground and go up and down stairs. He also had regained the ability to handle most of his personal care, including bathing, dressing and transferring. Ronald was pleased with his progress, which, according to his rehab team, was the result of his enthusiasm and willingness to work hard. He added that visits and support from his wife and friends helped him focus on his goals so that he could return home.
Ronald acknowledges that this experience has been life-changing, helping him realize that he has more strength and drive than he knew. Before his stroke, Ronald admits he was a bit of a “couch potato,” but since returning home he has been continuing his therapy and going on daily walks. He is making healthier food choices, including eliminating soda from his diet, and has lost nearly 50 pounds. He credits his “fantastic” therapy team at Ochsner Rehabilitation Hospital for “pushing him in the best way possible” and encouraging him to do more, even when he thought he had reached his limit.
Ronald’s words of advice to someone recovering from a stroke is “to be patient, work as hard as you can even if it hurts, try to achieve a new goal every day and improve yourself daily. It’s going to be a long and hard process, but just know that you can do it as long as you have that drive.”