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Phil Rasumussen's Story of Stroke Survival

On September 26, 2006, at the age of 50, I was beginning a new chapter in my life.  I had just moved into a new apartment in Oak Lawn and had begun a job as a salesman for a window and door company.  Not more than 10 days into my new move, I awoke in the morning not feeling well.  Hours later, I was lying on the floor of my apartment, unable to stand.  I would lie there for four hours before my brother found me and I was rushed to the hospital. 


In the emergency room, I was unable to speak or move my limbs.  My family arrived in shock and horror, afraid of what was happening to me. 


I would later learn that I had had a massive stroke that had penetrated the brain stem.  It had affected both sides of my body, but predominately my right side.  Because the hospital staff was unable to control my blood pressure, I was transferred to the ICU.  I would remain at the acute care hospital for 10 days before being transferred to Marianjoy.


Though both my sister and mom were familiar with Marianjoy, I was not and was unsure what to expect.  Prior to being transferred, a Marianjoy representative had visited me and gave me some advice.  She explained that half the battle of rehabilitation is just in doing the work the therapists push you to do – the other half was finding the motivation to get better. 


She was right.  Rehabilitation can be very difficult.  Even though I had no specific agenda when I arrived, I had a goal: to be able to use my right arm and leg again.  If it didn’t come to fruition, that was okay.  I was willing to accept whatever was to be.  Yet each day, everyone around me continued to encourage me to do better and to work harder to improve. 


I was unable to do the simple things, like using the bathroom or dressing myself.  Being a grown man I was now relying on the staff to help me with these tasks, and it was extremely humiliating.  As embarrassed as I was, I never once found a Marianjoy therapist or nurse who wasn’t gracious or willing to help me.  This allowed me to become less uncomfortable with the situation and made it so much easier for me to cope. 


During my stay at the acute care hospital, I was given a feeding tube which had been removed prior to my transfer.  Through the advice of my speech therapist at Marianjoy, I was immediately put on pureed foods and with her help, quickly worked my way up to solid foods, which was another accomplishment for me.  Though my speech was still very affected by the stroke, and even though I knew my therapists could not necessarily understand me as I struggled to communicate with them, they were still always polite to me.  It took work, but slowly my speech began to return, though not completely. 


The paralysis on my right side was a completely different challenge.  I was right-handed and was now having to relearn how to do even the simplest tasks with my left hand.    Just being able to eat by maneuvering the spoon up to my mouth with my left hand was an accomplishment! 


One particular day in therapy, my physical therapist decided to try and stand me up with her help.  She slowly helped me out of my chair and I stood for the first time in weeks.  I was shaky, but I was standing.  It felt so good to be an upright position, but it was bittersweet.  It really emphasized for me just how weak I was and how much work was still yet to be done.   


After five weeks of inpatient therapy, I was discharged in November 2006.  I would eventually return to outpatient therapy earlier this year.  I’m still working on regaining movement and strength in my right side but I am now able to stand unassisted.  Even though my right leg is in a brace and doesn’t move as freely as I would like, I can still manage to walk 400 feet with the aid of my walker. 


The staff has told me that my recovery can continue and I have my age in my favor.  It’s also been proven that recovery from a stroke can continue for years, so for that, I am hopeful.  And everyday that I’m in therapy at Marianjoy, my family confirms that they are seeing the progress. 


Some day I’d like to return to work as a salesman.  I realize I’ll need to be able to walk more and talk better than I do now, but that’s my goal.  Though I would like to get my life back to the way it was, I’m willing to accept whatever the outcome is. 


The biggest barrier for me was overcoming the mental aspects of my disability.  When something like this happens your entire world is turned upside down.  Things you took for granted are suddenly difficult and require that you concentrate on the task at hand instead of just performing it naturally.  That’s where the Marianjoy professionals helped me the most.  They realize everyone has a different set of challenges and they offer a variety of approaches.  And they treat the whole person. 


After my stroke, my family will tell you that their hearts were broken.  But the staff at Marianjoy is exceptional.  They have treated my family and me with respect and have such great attitudes towards my recovery.  They are pleasant and continually give me assurances.  There is a great balance at Marianjoy – one of being nice and encouraging, but also being firm.  Rehabilitation is hard work but they will continually push you to get better – and I wanted to get better.  With my mom as my biggest cheerleader, the staff has continued to give me direction, without offering any false expectations or guarantees.  I appreciate their honesty.


The Marianjoy case manager also helped my family out tremendously.  Not being familiar with the insurance documentation and medical forms, and having so many questions, my family looked to the case manager to help maneuver them through the process on my behalf.  She advised them, gave them the information they needed and pointed them in the right direction.  She was invaluable in getting us the resources and information that were necessary for my continued progress. 


I would tell any family who is going through what I went through, that the support you give the person who is hurt or ill, is invaluable.  I needed someone to concentrate on the paperwork and the aspects of my personal life that I wasn’t able to, in order that I could concentrate solely on my rehabilitation and recovery.  That has made a huge difference.


Marianjoy employs a caring group of professionals with a level of expertise that no one else has.  They are dedicated, friendly and I actually enjoy coming here for my therapy.  I don’t believe I ever encountered a therapist or nurse who isn’t smiling. 


I don’t think another facility could have done what Marianjoy has done for me.  They gave my family and me hope.