It was a typical day in late April when retired nurse Sharyn Jacobsen, 74, started to feel strange and knew that something was wrong. She was not sure exactly what was happening, so she first called her daughter, followed by 911. While waiting for an ambulance to arrive, Sharyn suddenly lost the ability to stand up. She was rushed to St. Mary’s Hospital, where doctors discovered she was experiencing an intraparenchymal hemorrhage (IPH), similar to a stroke, on the left side of her brain. She was unable to feel or move her arm or leg and suffer significant impairment of her expressive communication skills. Once she stabilized, Sharyn was transferred to SSM Health Rehabilitation Hospital – Richmond Heights to begin her recovery.
Upon arrival, Sharyn was unable to walk and required assistance for all self-care activities. She was also struggling with her speech, including difficulty following directions, answering abstract “yes or no” questions and struggling to find the right words to use. With a goal of getting Sharyn moving and speaking normally again, her physician-led team worked together to create an optimized care plan for her rehabilitation.
In occupational therapy, Sharyn’s therapists worked to help her body increase awareness of its right side. They used mirror therapy, where a full-length mirror is placed in front of Sharyn and therapists asked her to identify her body parts on the right to help rebuild the connections that had been damaged in her brain. Sharyn’s occupational therapists also took her through weight-bearing and range-of motion exercises, focusing specifically on her right arm during functional tasks such as eating or brushing her teeth. As Sharyn’s awareness of the right side of her body increased, she progressed to using the SabeoMAS, a zero gravity upper extremity device specifically designed to facilitate and challenge the weakened arm during functional tasks and exercise drills mobile arm support. In time, Sharyn was able to begin to dress herself with assistance and increase her self-care, including bathing and dressing.
Physical therapists helped Sharyn regain sensation and movement on the right side of her body as well as improve her strength and endurance. The LiteGait, a bodyweight-supported harness that can be used with or without a treadmill, was especially helpful in helping Sharyn re-learn to walk and improve her balance. Her physical therapists also worked with her to safely transfer from lying in bed to sitting up to standing and walking with a cane and a walker.
In speech therapy, Sharyn worked to relearn expressive communication skills. At the beginning of her recovery, Sharyn was quite frustrated by her communication impairments and inability to find the right words to use. Following multi-step tasks and problem-solving activities were also a challenge. However, consistent work with her therapists and a drive to improve helped Sharyn make great progress over the course of her time at SSM Health Rehabilitation Hospital – Richmond Heights.
By the time she was ready for discharge, Sharyn was able to hold a basic conversation with only minimal guidance and her word-finding ability had shown significant improvement. She has also progressed to using her left hand to write and was able to self-correct spelling errors when printing words. In addition, Sharyn can now complete more complex reasoning and organizational tasks with minimal assistance.
“As Sharyn’s frustration declined, her motivation soared,” shared her speech therapist. “She was determined to work hard in all of her therapies to continue on her road of recovery.”
Sharyn’s family, who went through training to learn how to help her at home, helped keep her motivated during the toughest days. Sharyn also credits the consistency of her therapists along with the relationship and trust they had built as one of the most helpful parts of her time in rehab.
“Sharyn demonstrated a powerful motivation to improve,” said her occupational therapist. “She had an incredible sense of humor, which I think carried her through some of the harder days.”
After six weeks, Sharyn was ready to return home and was looking forward to seeing her family and two cats. When reflecting on her journey, Sharyn said, “You have to take everything a day at a time,” adding “The three physical, occupational and speech therapists that worked with me five days a week were tremendous. I will always remember their strength, humor, and friendship.”
She plans to continue her recovery at the SSM Health Day Institute.