Stroke Patient Story: When Seconds Count

Aurora St. Luke’s helps stroke victim get life back


May is National Stroke Awareness Month. Aurora neurologists and rehabilitation specialists help you live better with crucial, time-sensitive care to minimize the damage of stroke and provide quality of life after a stroke.

Arlene Cich experienced a stroke in 2006. She made a strong recovery with the help of her doctors and stroke rehabilitation specialists at Aurora St. Luke's in Milwaukee.

Arlene Cich will never forget January 8, 2006. It started out like any Sunday: she was taking her Sunday bath when suddenly she shivered – and rolled over face-down in the tub. When she couldn’t get up, Arlene called for her husband, Len. Running into the bathroom, Len took one look at his wife’s face, which was drooping, and he knew…

Arlene had just had a stroke.

Acting FAST

Len acted fast and called 911. He told the operator that the left side of Arlene’s face was drooping, and she wasn’t able to use her left arm. He recalled FAST – the signs to look for in a stroke.

  • Face: Does it look uneven?
  • Arm: Can the person raise both arms?
  • Speech: Is the person’s speech slurred?
  • Time: Call 911 if you observe any of these signs of stroke.

When paramedics arrived, Arlene said she wanted to go to Aurora St. Luke’s Medical Center. “I knew it was the best place,” she says. Aurora St. Luke’s Medical Center is one of nine primary stroke centers at Aurora that provide Joint Commission-certified care, which signifies that patients are treated faster, increasing the window of treatment to 4-6 hours and giving patients better recoveries.

Did you know?

Aurora St. Luke's Medical Center joined the American Health Association/American Stroke Association's Stroke Honor Roll in May 2011, making it the first hospital in the state to achieve this recognition.

Doctors at Aurora St. Luke’s determined Arlene had suffered a hemorrhagic stroke, or “brain bleed,” which accounts for about 13 percent of stroke cases. The stroke occurs when a weakened blood vessel ruptures and bleeds into the surrounding brain. The blood accumulates and presses on the surrounding brain tissue.

Arlene was in intensive care for almost two weeks before she was moved to the stroke rehabilitation floor. “It was intense, but good,” Arlene recalls, noting that the staff helped with “everything.” Her rehab included exercises with balance, stretching and swallowing. She even learned to walk again.

Thankfully, Arlene didn’t suffer from aphasia, which is often a result of stroke. Aphasia is a disorder caused by damage to the parts of the brain that control language. It can make it hard for people to read, write, and say what they mean to say.

Though the rehab was intense, Arlene was happy for it. “They work with you immediately,” she notes. “They don’t let you cool off. The most good was done here. It was really helpful; I made a lot of progress.”

Len, who was with Arlene every day during her physical and occupational therapy, agrees. “You develop a personal relationship with the same therapist. You look forward to therapy.”

“He didn’t miss a day,” Arlene says of her husband. “He was my cheering section. It’s like I tell people, ‘I didn’t have the stroke – we had the stroke.’”

Stroke happens to the family

Both Arlene and Len agree that stroke doesn’t just happen to an individual – it affects the entire family. Arlene says before the stroke she was very active, working full-time, walking two miles a day and enjoying gardening.

Today, while she has no trouble speaking, Arlene still feels the effect of the stroke. She walks with the assistance of a cane and is unable to use her left arm. Len helps her out with more difficult tasks.

Still, she says “I was lucky.” She notes the many things she can do, like cooking, bathing and dressing.

She laughs that sometimes she does need Len’s help. “Sometimes I’ll get out of the shower and am getting dressed and I get all tangled up. I’ll call for Len and he’ll say, ‘How did you do that?’ and I’ll say, ‘I don’t know, but it wasn’t easy!’”

“You can still do things,” she explains. “You just learn to do things differently. And ask for help.”

Did you know?

Aurora St. Luke's also earned the Get With The Guidelines Gold Plus Awards for Stroke and Heart Failure for 2013. Aurora St. Luke's is the only hospital in Wisconsin to receive this double honor.

The awards are designated by the American Heart Association/American Stroke Association and are earned by hospitals using the most up-to-date best practices, guidelines and recommendations for patient outcomes for stroke care.

Arlene also advises patients and their families to take it “one day at a time.” “You can’t look too far behind, because you can’t be that person again,” she notes. But Arlene is also proof that you can have a full life after stroke. She and Len have volunteered on the Stroke Patient Advisory Council at Aurora St. Luke’s for the past two years. It is the longest running patient advisory council at Aurora and is devoted to education and support for stroke patients and their families.

Both Arlene and Len are grateful for the care they received at Aurora St. Luke’s. “I wanted to go here because I knew from friends and the reputation that it was the best.”

“There were so many people that helped,” she says of her Aurora St. Luke’s rehab specialists and nurses. “Nice personalities, very helpful. Their feedback really pushes you forward,” she says.

Find a neurological care doctor or call 888-863-5502.