Frederick's story

Photo of patient Frederick Sanders lying in a hospital bed.

St. Louis native Frederick “Slim” Sanders, 61, has led an interesting life. His aunt taught him to cook at age 13 and he proceeded to attend culinary school once he entered military service. He worked as a chef for 40 years, including 20 years as a personal chef for the musician Chuck Berry. Slim is also a musician, having played keyboard, bass guitar and drums in a band with his siblings. He once got to play with Chuck Berry’s band and had the opportunity to spend time with other legendary icons such as BB King and Tina and Ike Turner over the years.

Now retired, Slim awoke at 3 a.m. one morning and immediately fell down when he went to get out of bed. He continued to try to get up but kept collapsing, unable to even get to the bathroom. Slim called his ex-wife, who told him that his speech was slurred and to call 911 right away. The ambulance took Slim to SSM Health DePaul Hospital, where he underwent testing and it was determined he had suffered a stroke.

In an unusual twist, Slim was never admitted to the hospital; physicians determined he was stable enough to advance directly to inpatient rehabilitation.  He selected SSM Health Rehabilitation Hospital – Bridgeton.

Upon arrival, Slim said, “I could not use my whole left side. I was forgetting to breathe when I talked and was slurring my words. I was drooling all the time and when swallowing food, I would cough.” Because of his left-sided weakness, Slim initially required maximum assistance for all of his personal care needs, and a walker for mobility.

Slim’s team of physicians, nurses and therapists assessed his condition and developed a treatment plan.  Slim shared, “I told everyone that I wanted to walk out of here.” His physical therapists echoed Slim’s sentiments, saying that he “was very motivated to be able to walk independently by the time he left.”

To help Slim reach his goal, physical therapists focused on walking, balance, stairs, leg strength and safety techniques, often performing high-level balance activities and intense leg strengthening exercises during his sessions, which assisted his progress. While Slim initially required maximum assistance to walk with a walker, he eventually graduated to a cane with supervised assistance as his balance improved. Slim said that once he was able to walk up the stairs during physical therapy, he knew he had turned a corner in his recovery.

Slim was also struggling to swallow and his speech was difficult to understand; he had a flat affect and mild cognitive challenges that resulted in him responding to questions with one-word answers. As speech therapy progressed, Slim started to engage with his therapy team more each day. “We learned so many great things about him, including that he used to be an excellent cook, the pets he owned, and his hobby of painting,” said one of his speech therapists. “It was a joy to see Slim progress during his rehabilitation stay and seeing him joke and smile in his therapy sessions.”

In occupational therapy, Slim’s therapists worked on safety awareness during his personal care while training him on how to use adaptive equipment to make tasks easier. They placed special focus on helping Slim regain function in his left arm, using a variety of exercises and techniques to improve coordination and fine-motor skills as well as strengthening. Therapists also utilized the Bioness Integrated Technology System (BITS) which uses interactive software and a touch screen to help improve coordination, memory, reaction time and balance.

After 35 days at SSM Health Rehabilitation Hospital – Bridgeton, Slim was discharged and planned to continue his recovery with a home therapy program. Slim looked forward to returning home and cooking for himself, especially his chicken and dumplings.

When asked about his time at SSM Rehabilitation Hospital, Slim said “It has been an experience. They have really worked hard with me and were always on me about being safe. Every day has been a good experience. Every day, they greeted me and said, ‘Hi Slim!’ I just want to thank everyone.”