Immediately after my stroke, my vocal chords were paralyzed and I was unable to swallow at all. I had a tracheotomy for 2 months and a peg tube [a tube used for feeding] for 10 months. I participated in speech therapy every day in the time immediately following my stroke, and continued with daily exercises at home as time went on. I used VitalStim [a Neuromuscular Electrical Nerve Stimulation therapy] for nearly 10 months after my stroke. I sought out procedures, specialists, and even a swallowing exercise device. My swallowing muscles began to return about 9 months after my stroke but I still couldn’t swallow as I did before my stroke, not even my own saliva.
Because I had severe dysphagia, I missed out on Thanksgiving dinner with my family, as well as Christmas and New Year’s meals which are also very important in my family. Not being able to eat, drink, or swallow really took me away from a normal life with my family members, and kept me very isolated. I removed myself from most situations involving food. I always had a love of cooking and recipes. That joy was taken away from me, and it was a struggle to not let my dysphagia change me.
I sought out multiple opinions from various specialists in city hospitals. Finally, I found a surgeon three hours away from home who was willing to inject botox into my CP muscle, in 3 spots. This was done at month 10 post stroke, and seven days after my procedure I swallowed successfully for the first time.
My advice to other stroke survivors managing dysphagia is: Don’t give up, and don’t lose hope. Seek out as many suggestions as you can, and just keep trying all different treatment options. Stay committed to the exercises you can do, and believe that they will work eventually. Do not allow certain suggested timelines affect your faith or motivation. Even after a year, people do find success.
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