Aurora Rehabilitation Services guides caregiver's healing journey
Community of coordinated care supports each step of recovery
It was December 1, 2009. Steve Hofmann was 35 years old, strong and healthy. He was very active with hunting, fishing, bowling, and yard work. And he loved football and baseball. After ten years in construction, he had been working at Aurora West Allis Medical Center in environmental services for the past year. Steve and his wife Tracy were preparing for the holiday season and their eighth year of marriage.
Without warning, Steve suffered a stroke that affected many aspects of his health, including his balance, memory, speech, strength and mobility. Because he was only 35 years old, this was especially shocking.
"Steve's mother had a stroke when she was in her 70s," commented Tracy. "And high blood pressure does run in the family. But nobody in his family had ever experienced something like this at such a young age."
Steve's coordinated care experience began at the Aurora St. Luke's Medical Center intensive care unit. After 4-5 days, he moved to the hospital's inpatient rehabilitation unit for two months of focused therapy. He continued outpatient therapy at Aurora West Allis Medical Center, where he received the combined attention of physical, occupational, recreational, and speech pathology therapists.
"A lot of exciting things happen at Aurora West Allis Medical Center," Tracy said. "Steve was able to focus on not only his immediate goals, but returning to his leisure activities, like bowling. With our recreational therapist's help, we were able to take advantage of the warm water therapy pool. They also offered a Nintendo Wii system that helped with balance, hand-eye coordination, and following instructions. We were usually able to visit our physical therapist, recreational therapist, and speech therapist all in one visit."
Today, Steve is receiving care through a home therapy benefit with the Aurora Visiting Nurse Association. He receives occupational therapy at home once a month. He also exercises with the SaeboFlex, an experimental arm brace that restores hand function by supporting the weakened wrist, hand, and fingers. The SaeboFlex has been proven to improve mobility in patients for up to 20 years after their injury.
The Hofmann's also use the Lingraphica, a speech-generation device that allows Steve to communicate with a selection of phrases, icons and videos. The Lingraphica supports conversation, allows typing coordination, and assists with memory and cognitive processes of sentence structure. Most importantly, it helps people express their emotional, physical and medical needs, sometimes without the need for talking. "It's even iPod-compatible," said Tracy.
Steve also attends Aurora's monthly "Stroke at Midlife" support group, which provides an opportunity for stroke survivors and their families to give and receive support, share solutions, and learn from each other.
"We are seeing an increase in the number of stroke patients under the age of 40," commented Roseann Fasi, speech pathologist therapist at Aurora West Allis. "We have never seen this many under the age of 70. There is a definite trend towards strokes at an early age, especially when high blood pressure is a risk factor."
"I can't stress the importance of education enough," explained Dr. Gita Baruah, medical director of physical medicine and rehabilitation at Aurora West Allis Medical Center. "Know about the signs and symptoms of stroke. Learn how to manage your health risks and prevent not only strokes, but also high blood pressure, diabetes and smoking. Keep regular appointments with your doctor, even if you're young. Stroke can strike at any age, with or without symptoms or family history. Everyone is at risk."
Tracy offers her advice to spouses, family members, and other caregivers supporting a patient's recovery. "You're going to have your good days and your bad days. And it's okay to be frustrated. The frustration will go away in time, and your sense of humor will come back."
"Never say the word 'can't.' Always think in terms of 'I can do, I will do, I want to do.' Keep your loved one focused on what's possible to achieve."
Stroke is the leading cause of adult disability in the United States and it is the number two cause of death worldwide. The most common causes of stroke include high blood pressure and atrial fibrillation. Discuss your risk factors and lifestyle changes with your primary care physician. For more information about Aurora's stroke support services, visit our website.