Rehabilitation helps stroke survivors overcome fears, stay motivated during recovery
Inpatient rehabilitation helped Jean Forte, who could barely sit up without help after her stroke, stand and give a reading during a church service.
Rehabilitation after stroke enabled George Conway to progress from being unable to move his right side or carry on a conversation to enjoying an active lifestyle full of new challenges.
Forte and Conway are sharing their recovery stories to highlight the American Stroke Association’s new Life After Stroke Guide. The resource is part of the American Stroke Association’s Together to End Stroke initiative, which is nationally sponsored by Encompass Health Corp. in a new three-year agreement with the American Stroke Association.
Stroke, which occurs when blood supply to the brain is interrupted, is the No. 5 cause of death in the United States, killing more than 140,000 people a year. It is more often disabling than fatal and is a leading cause of long-term disability.
The Life After Stroke Guide offers patients and caregivers information including stroke risk factors, symptoms and treatment, and tools to track challenges following a stroke. The guide underscores the importance of rehabilitation in recovery. A large and comprehensive team – including the patient, family, friends, physicians, nurses, therapists and social workers – helps coordinate rehabilitation.
"Sustained, comprehensive and coordinated rehabilitation is pivotal to success when it comes to regaining strength, function and confidence following a stroke," said Barb Jacobsmeyer, executive vice president of inpatient hospitals at Encompass Health. "A specially trained care team can tap into patients’ motivation and abilities as they recover, enabling an individual to reach milestones he or she can continue to build on."
The American Stroke Association’s science-based guidelines recommend an inpatient rehabilitation facility for medically stable stroke survivors who are able to participate in at least three hours of therapy for five days a week. Additionally, a clinician with expertise in rehabilitation should assess stroke patients who have experienced a loss of function, have poor balance or are at risk of falls to determine whether there’s a need for a balance training program.
While experts underscore the importance of rehabilitation, many survivors don’t receive the rehabilitation services needed to maximize recovery.
Fortunately for Forte and Conway, rehabilitation therapist helped rebuild their strength and abilities.
Jean Forte was 57 when she had a massive heart attack followed by a stroke in 2018. She spent a month in the hospital before being transferred to an inpatient rehabilitation hospital. She couldn’t walk or do much else.
“I remember that first day there,” Forte said. “I had no ability to really even sit up by myself or do anything close to that. I knew I was there, but that was about it.”
After a month in the rehabilitation hospital, Forte’s other health challenges, including quintuple heart bypass surgery, complicated her stroke recovery. She was determined to keep working on it, though, constantly motivated by the staff at Encompass Health Rehabilitation Hospital of Montgomery in Alabama.
In December, Forte was able to stand as she gave a reading at church. She credits her rehabilitation therapists for enabling her to regain her strength and reach the milestone.
“They were tough,” she said. “It was very hard, but it was a good thing they were, and didn’t just let me lay there. I never had the choice to give up, and that encouraged me like you wouldn’t believe.”
George Conway managed a busy schedule, working 60 hours a week, playing golf, spending time with his family and staying active in the community until a stroke in 2012 suddenly changed his life.
“There were so many things I just could not do,” he said.
Conway, then 68, worked with therapists at Encompass Health Rehabilitation Hospital of Northern Virginia in the town of Aldie to overcome his fears, build strength and celebrate every milestone.
“I was astounded at the things I was able to do after only a short time,” he said.
Now, 74, Conway still plays golf, runs, cycles and does Pilates. He even does things he hadn’t done before. He volunteers with a stroke support group at the rehabilitation hospital, offering his support and insight to survivors undergoing therapy.
“My life is different, now” he said. “I would even say it’s better, because now, I do things that I want to do.“
The American Stroke Association and Encompass Health share a vision to inspire hope in the stroke community, increase independence after a stroke and reduce stroke mortality.
Learn more at strokeassociation.org/lifeafterstroke.
Courtesy of Jean and Gary Forte
Courtesy of George Conway and Vidhya Kannan