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Life after a stroke: A survivor’s message of warning signs and recovery

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Posted at 6:07 PM, Jan 31, 2023

CLEVELAND — Stroke is the leading cause of disability in the United States, but there is life and hope after stroke, says the American Heart Association

It starts with rehabilitation.

Northeast Ohio has some of the best stroke care in the nation, including helping stroke survivors regain what was lost.

Like Brian Squire, 55, of Elyria.

Nearly six weeks ago, he had a stroke.

On Dec. 22 at 5 a.m., Brian started work at his manufacturing job. By 6:30 a.m. he had sudden weakness in his right arm, which is a sign of stroke a coworker recognized.

"I was taking parts off and feeling that it wasn't right,” Brian said pointing to his arm. “And that's when I knew I had to go to the hospital.”

Brian suffered an ischemic stroke. The most common kind of stroke that occurs when a blood clot blocks a blood vessel in the brain.

Brian's blockage was in the left side of his brain which impacted the right side of his body, causing limited limb movement in his arm and leg.

"There is no one-size-fits-all of what a stroke looks like and how fast your recovery will be," said Kate Barrett, occupational therapist at University Hospitals Avon Rehabilitation.

Brian is making amazing progress, says Barrett.

"It's been awesome to see," she said. "When he first came here there was nothing. Maybe a tiny shoulder shrug on that side."

Time is of the essence in recognizing and treating stroke and so is starting rehabilitation as soon as possible, says Barrett. Every patient is unique, and healing can happen for years, but in general she says the first two to three months are the most critical for recovery.

Brian spent three weeks at the rehabilitation facility. He received three hours a day of in-patient rehab.

A lot of that time was spent on Bionik's InMotion Arm/Hand robotic system. It monitors and gently assists patients through tasks to improve motor control and increase coordination, range of motion and strength.

"We can get a lot more repetition of movement in a shorter amount of time," said Barrett. "For example, we got nearly 300 repetitions of movement in just half an hour whereas in normal therapy you're getting 30 to 50 repetitions."

She says repetition equals the rewiring parts of the brain that need to heal after stroke. Barrett says the robotic arm also provides direct feedback, allowing patients to see their progress.

"It gives them a really nice visual of, 'this is where I was and this is where I am now,'" Barrett explained.

Where Brian is now is impressive. He has worked hard to get here.

"I used to only walk a couple little steps," he explained while standing next to a walker. "Maybe 20 feet, and now I can go around the room without this!"

Little things most of us take for granted, like walking or putting on a coat are now major milestones for Brian that he keeps exceeding.

"Just one day at a time," he said.

Brian and other stroke survivors may be getting a helping hand from a robot, but the human heart and spirit are unrivaled in recovery.

“That is huge,” smiled Barrett. “That makes all the difference if patients are motivated.”

Brian says his wife’s support has also been crucial to his recovery, and so is staying on top of his risk factors for stroke. Including A-fib and high blood pressure.

Sudden arm weakness was the warning sign that sent Brian to the hospital. Remember the FAST acronym for detecting signs of stroke: Facial drooping, arm weakness, speech difficulty, and time — seek help right away.

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