Patricia’s Story

The Challenge

A longtime volunteer with the American Heart Association, Patricia, 76, of North Huntingdon has helped stuff envelopes asking for donations. One of the items included in these envelopes is a small piece of paper, no bigger than a business card, containing the warning signs of a heart attack and a stroke.

Years ago, Patricia decided to leave one of these pieces of paper next to the telephone in the house she shares with her husband, Clyde, “just in case.” Little did she know, in July 2016, that piece of paper would help save her life.
Patricia’s day started out relatively normal, although she did feel a bit more tired and weaker than usual. She decided to turn in for the night around 9:30 p.m., unusually early for the self-proclaimed night owl.

Around 2 a.m., Patricia woke up to use the bathroom. She felt a bit wobbly walking down the hallway, but it wasn’t until she went to grab the toilet paper that she realized something was wrong.

“I couldn’t actually feel the toilet paper in my hand, although I could see myself holding it,” explains Patricia. “I thought maybe I had been lying on my hand and it had fallen asleep.”

The Path to UPMC

When Patricia realized she could not move her hand to wash it, she became concerned. She called for Clyde to get the slip of paper she kept by the telephone which listed the warning signs of a stroke. Patricia admitted to experiencing a few symptoms, including numbness in her hand, and slightly slurred speech. In an effort to determine if her symptoms were actually those of a stroke, Patricia picked up a pen sitting on the table and tried to write her name. When she was unable to do so, she and Clyde decided it was time to call for help. A half hour after she had woken up, an ambulance arrived and took her to the emergency department at UPMC East.

Patricia’s ischemic stroke, caused by a blood clot in the brain, had affected the right side of her body, impacting her balance, walking, speech, and use of her right hand. She was admitted to the UPMC Rehabilitation Institute at UPMC East.

The Solution

After a few days of hand therapy, Patricia was finally able to unfurl her hand from the balled up fist it had been in since she arrived at the hospital. ​She also underwent physical therapy to learn how to balance and walk normally. Patricia’s therapists were able to take advantage of the beautiful summer weather and move some of her therapy outside.

“We went out to the garden area and they had me walk on the grass, sidewalk, and mulch to practice moving on different surfaces,” Patricia recalls.

Speech therapy was another service Patricia received while at the UPMC Rehabilitation Institute at UPMC East. Her speech therapist, Mike, had her repeat certain words and phrases, in order to strengthen the cognitive connection between her brain and her mouth. She also recited as many words beginning with the letters W and M as she could, a difficult task for many stroke patients.

The Results

Patricia was anxious to return home and spend time with her friends and family, including her four grown children and grandchild. “I am so thankful for the close proximity of my home to the UPMC Rehabilitation Institute​,” says Patricia. “It was easier for my husband and other family members to visit me. I’m also thankful for the fantastic care I received there.”
She wants everyone to understand the warning signs of stroke, and pay attention to how you are feeling.

“Even someone like me, who is diligent about staying active and attending regular doctor appointments, can suffer a stroke.”

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