The Varying After Effects of Stroke

Deanne Stein Health Guide
  • As I watch the events unfold about Israel's Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, it brings back memories of my own stroke and rehabilitation. I realize, while the causes of stroke can be different, the effects can be very similar. About 80 percent of strokes are caused by the blockage of an artery in the neck or brain. The rest are caused by a burst blood vessel in the brain. I read that Sharon has responded to stimulation with pain and moved his right hand and right leg.

    In my situation, I did have feeling in my face, leg and arm, but that didn't last. My condition worsened within 48 hours after my blood clot had dissolved. So much so that my doctors were afraid I was having another stroke. Luckily, I wasn't. Later, my doctor told me he believed the brain cells damaged during my stroke just finished dying. I was left with a limp in my right leg, no movement in the right side of my face or my right arm from the shoulder down.
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    Generally, stroke can cause five types of disabilities: paralysis or problems controlling movement; sensory disturbances including pain; problems using or understanding language; problems with thinking and memory; and emotional disturbances. I experienced all of them but pain. Later, I found I wasn't alone.

    In the United States more than 700,000 people suffer a stroke each year, and while approximately two-thirds of these people survive, most do require some sort of rehabilitation. Rehabilitation helps stroke survivors relearn skills that are lost when part of the brain is damaged. The goals of rehabilitation are to help survivors become as independent as possible and to achieve the best possible quality of life.

    Following my stroke, I had to undergo occupational therapy, physical therapy and speech therapy. In the first few months following my stroke, I was at the hospital five days a week for several hours a day. It was grueling and very frustrating because for weeks there was no change. It's the worst feeling in the world to try and move your arm and can't. Or, to believe your smiling and then look in the mirror only to realize half of your face is still drawn.

    I do believe the turning point for me was when my therapist used a sort of shock treatment. It's a technology called transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS). It basically helps your brain retrain itself. TENS involves using a small probe that generates an electrical current to stimulate nerve activity in stroke-impaired limbs. It worked for me and eventually I regained all movement in my leg, arm and face.

    I knew I was lucky then, but recently realized it again when I watched Dick Clark on New Year's Eve. He returned to his live annual show one year after his stroke. One year after and you could still see the effects of his stroke. I watched with such admiration as he talked and went on with the show. Being on television myself, while on a much smaller scale, I don't know if I could have done it. In fact, it wasn't until I was fully recovered before I decided to go back on the air. Now, I stay active in our local American Heart Association through awareness walks and speaking about my stroke and recovery. It's hard work, but rehabilitation can truly help a stroke survivor get back on track or learn the easiest way to live with their disabilities.
Published On: February 02, 2006