Missouri native Vonda Mathis, 54, is a mother of three boys, wife to her husband Timothy, and a grandmother. She worked part-time at Home Depot and loved spending time with her granddaughters and playing with her two dogs, Max and Nala. In late March, Vonda was rushed to the emergency room after exhibiting signs of a stroke. A CT scan confirmed the stroke diagnosis and also surfaced that Vonda had blood clots in her lungs, which was treated with blood thinners. Additionally, physicians fitted Vonda with a heart loop monitor, an implantable recording device that records a person’s heart rhythm continuously for up to three years. This allowed the capture of electrical signals of the heart for remote monitoring by way of a small device inserted just beneath the skin of the chest.
Vonda’s stroke left her unable to communicate due to both aphasia, the loss of ability to understand or express speech, and apraxia, which causes challenges with lip, jaw and tongue movements. She also was unable to walk independently and had challenges using her right arm and hand. After two days in the hospital, Vonda stabilized and was transferred to SSM Health Rehabilitation Hospital – Bridgeton to begin her recovery. Her care team of physicians, nurses and physical, occupational, speech and recreation therapists immediately began to formulate a plan to meet her rehabilitation goals.
In physical therapy, Vonda worked on re-learning to walk independently and increasing strength by wearing ankle weights and performing therapist-guided exercises to improve her balance and endurance. Occupational therapists worked with Vonda on using her right arm and hand to perform fine motor skills, including picking things up, holding them and putting them down.
Because the stroke impacted her speech most significantly, Vonda worked closely with her speech-language pathologist who began simply by showing her pictures of items and having her try to name and describe what was shown. Her therapist also used semantic feature analysis (SFA), a therapy technique that focuses on having the patient describe each feature of a word in a systematic way by answering a set of questions.
Vonda was making great progress. When she was able to walk on her own and use the bathroom independently, she really felt her recovery was going in the right direction. After just shy of a month, Vonda was discharged to home. She could not wait to be back with her family and dogs. However, because of the severity of her speech challenges, she immediately began additional speech therapy five days a week at the SSM Health Day Institute – Kirkwood. “It’s hard to use words; they don’t come out. Some of the words get jumbled together,” said Vonda.
At the Day Institute, Vonda works closely with her speech-language pathologist each day with the goal of regaining functional communication abilities in order to effectively express both simple and complex thoughts. In therapy, Vonda focuses on regaining expressive language and speech production, working with specialized technology on an iPad, as well as other techniques. Her therapist shared, “Vonda works very hard and although the process can be challenging and frustrating, she doesn’t let it stop her.”
Vonda is grateful not only for her rehabilitation therapists, but for her husband and daughter-in-law who drive her to and from therapy. She is also thankful for her friends and family who stay overnight at her home to help.
For those going through their own stroke recovery, Vonda encourages them to “follow the rules and make sure you get the services you need.”