September 10, 2009

Stroke Recovery – Survivor shares message of hope

Submitted by Robin Linville

Robin Linville was in the emergency room with her brother who was a patient the night of Feb. 9, 2007. She recalls feeling anxious and confused and dropping a couple of items.

“I just felt like I had to get out of there and get some air, and I would be OK,” she recalls. “I knew something was wrong but didn’t know what. I remember thinking, ‘Why are people looking at me but not doing anything?’ I drove my mother home about 11 p.m., and she said I almost hit a car. When I woke up and dressed for work the next morning, I felt drained. I spilled my coffee on the table and tried to wipe up the mess. I thought I was saying ‘Sorry,’ but my mom couldn’t understand what I was saying. I remember crying, knowing that something was really not right.”

That morning, the 51-year-old was taken to the emergency room. She had suffered a stroke on the left side of her brain.

“I couldn’t talk…I was babbling,” she recalls. “I really don’t remember anything until I got to my hospital room. I received care on the neurology unit of the hospital for one week, and then went to outpatient rehabilitation for speech therapy. Jodi Robinson was the first ‘hand’ to hold. She wasn’t going to let me fall in the cracks and made sure that I could recover. The fog continued for eight months. Initially, I had a pocket communicator given to me by Rebecca Rall, speech therapist. I persevered and have come back to speech therapy two or three times since that initial referral.”

Like many people, Linville didn’t recognize the classic signs of stroke. Ironically, she was in the emergency room with her brother when the first symptoms hit. Her story illustrates the importance of getting to the hospital quickly at the onset of stroke. For victims of an ischemic stroke (when blood flow to the brain is obstructed), only a three-hour window of time is available to deliver the clot-busting drug t-PA. Unfortunately, too few people reach the hospital in time.

“People know that something’s wrong but say, ‘I’ll call the doctor tomorrow.’ Many are in denial, and the fact that stroke symptoms can fade in and out from a transient ischemic attack or warning stroke, only strengthens that denial and delays people from taking action,” says Alicia Owens, who coordinates the Genesis Stroke Recovery and Prevention Center (SPARC).

Brain attack
When someone is having a stroke, every second counts. For the most rapid response, Genesis has instituted a “Stroke Alert” at its Davenport, Illini and DeWitt campuses for determining whether a patient’s health circumstances make him or her a candidate for t-PA. Not every patient who has had a stroke is eligible to receive t-PA. Some people wake up with stroke symptoms, making it impossible for doctors to know the exact time of the onset of stroke. If a patient doesn’t get to the hospital within that window of time, it becomes too risky to administer t-PA. The drug also cannot be used on patients who have had hemorrhagic strokes, or bleeding in the brain.

Genesis Medical Center, Davenport has the area’s only dedicated Stroke Unit, which has four beds and employs neuroscience nurses and staff who specialize in stroke care. It’s also the only Quad Cities facility to be recognized as a Primary Stroke Center by the American Stroke Association.

Sharing hope
More than two years later, Linville still is on the road to recovery. She has struggled with aphasia, a communication disorder that affects listening, talking, reading and writing. It does not, however, diminish intelligence. She also has dealt with apraxia – difficulty making the movement patterns needed to produce speech.

With her aphasia, Linville’s speech may sound telegraphic, meaning it can be understood but some of the grammatical parts are lost, says Linda McNeill, speech therapist. Due to her apraxia, producing speech combinations is more difficult. As a result of these deficits, sometimes she can write but not speak, and sometimes she can say what she wants but not write it.

Linville stresses, “Please be patient with people like us who are trying to express our thoughts. We are not retarded; please do not be condescending to us. Cognitive listening…Patience…Frustration…Struggle…All of those come with aphasia and apraxia. At the time of my hospitalization, I couldn’t figure out what a TV remote was or how to make the channel change. We have to find humor because at first you cry all of the time. And, last but not least, be aware of stress and what it can do to you.”

Owens adds, “Robin has learned how to manage her stress. Among the tools she has implemented for stress management is exercising; she loves walking. Also, she knows her limitations and has given herself permission to say, ‘I’m done. I need to stop.’ The speech therapist calls it ‘Working smart, not hard.’”

Linville wants people to know how important it is for families to be supportive and not embarrassed. There is a lot of fear on everyone’s part – from the patients to the families and their friends. Working through it together is valuable.

“Never, ever give up hope. Never put us stroke survivors in a closet; we are thrivers! There is a path, sometimes more detours and challenges than we would like. With the love and support of my family, friends, therapists, medical professionals, SPARC, my journey continues one little step after another.”

Know the warning signs of stroke
Stroke is a medical emergency. The longer you wait to get help, the more disabling your stroke can be. Call 911 immediately if you experience any of these symptoms:

  • Numbness or weakness of the face, arm or leg, especially on one side of the body.
  • Sudden loss of vision in one or both eyes
  • Sudden confusion, trouble speaking or understanding
  • Sudden trouble walking, dizziness, loss of balance or coordination
  • Severe, sudden headache