Ohio native Gretchen, a 44-year-old mother of one, prides herself on being fit, eating well, staying active, and being healthy. That is why she was surprised to discover pain at the base of her skull when visiting the hairdresser in February 2016.
Gretchen called her doctor and explained to her that it felt like she had a bruise at the nape of her neck but there was no bump. The doctor was unable to find a cause so she sent Gretchen home with pain medication and the discomfort went away.
In May, Gretchen developed laryngitis and a very bad cough. It seemed like a normal springtime virus, so she didn’t think much of it.
Four months later, after making dinner and cleaning up, Gretchen sat down to relax in a recliner near her husband, Kenny. She tried to tell him that she wasn’t feeling well but he couldn’t understand anything she was saying. Her speech was slurred and her vision was blurry. Kenny took her to the hospital immediately; where it was determined that Gretchen had suffered from a stroke.
Gretchen’s entire right side was affected. She couldn’t walk or stand on her right leg. She had some speech issues and was unable to think of certain words. In order to regain use of her right side, Gretchen was admitted to the UPMC Rehabilitation Institute at UPMC Montefiore.
Gretchen began her therapy with determination and a positive attitude even though she had numbness on the right side of her face, no sensation in her fingers, and that lack of feeling continued down into her leg.
“My physical therapist Yuliya was amazing,” says Gretchen. “At first, I couldn’t feel my right foot on the floor but four days after my last stroke, I could feel it again. It was all those exercises Yuliya was having me do.”
Gretchen had occupational therapy to learn how to pick things up with her right hand, feed herself, and learn how to cook again, while using her left hand for guidance. Kenny provided emotional support by visiting often. He even brought Gretchen’s beloved dog, Callie, along for a visit, which really brightened Gretchen’s spirits.
The cause of Gretchen’s ischemic stroke is still undetermined. The pain at the base of her neck could’ve been from a blood clot that was then shaken loose when coughing a lot in May.
“My case is proof that you never know what will happen and strokes can occur at any time,” says Gretchen. “But with my family support system and therapy at the UPMC Rehabilitation Institute, I was able to regain use of my right side and get back to my life.”