Not one to back down from a challenge, Steve Young, 59, has been making the long commute from Weirton, WV, to his job in administration at the VA Pittsburgh Healthcare System in Oakland since 1991. With all that time spent on the road, Steve managed to learn Italian while listening to books on tape during his commute. This determination and perseverance on a daily basis would prove to be good preparation for the health journey that lay ahead of him.
On a Saturday in June 2014, Steve went to a home improvement store in Steubenville, OH in search of some tools so that he could surprise his newly married daughter by doing work on her house. As he walked into the store, he heard car keys hit the ground. He looked down and realized they were his, so he bent over to pick them up but couldn’t feel them in his left hand. He kept walking but his left side was giving out. Steve thought to himself, “This isn’t a good place to be. I think I’m having a stroke.”
A CAT scan at a nearby hospital confirmed that he had in fact suffered from an ischemic stroke. The next day, his wife heard him slurring his speech in his hospital bed and realized he was having a second stroke. Steve was soon transferred to the UPMC Rehabilitation Institute at UPMC Mercy. When he was first admitted, he couldn’t walk and wasn’t able to stand up without collapsing. It took three nurses to get him into bed. After two weeks at the UPMC Rehabilitation Institute, physical therapists were able to get him up and walking again.
His physical therapists had him perform a variety of exercises to improve his balance. Steve also used exercise bands to help regain strength and movement. Once he started walking again, the majority of his therapy focused on improving his ability to walk better. He also used a hand-operated exercise bike as part of his occupational therapy because he had no use of his left hand and was unable to move his fingers.
In order to retrain his brain to do things he was able to do before the stroke, he played games on the Armeo ®, a computerized machine with a toggle stick used to improve arm movement. The repetitive nature of the games helped Steve reestablish nerve connections in his brain.
“The nurses, doctors, and therapists worked very well together and created a great healing environment that you could thrive and get well in,” remembers Steve. “The communication between all of us was very good and everyone worked together like a well-oiled machine. My care was excellent.”
Steve had always lived a healthy lifestyle. He ate well and exercised regularly, but he had a family history of high cholesterol and high blood pressure, which he was diagnosed with in his 20s. Thanks in part to his experience with the UPMC Rehabilitation Institute and his desire to educate others about strokes, he decided to volunteer at UPMC Mercy after his discharge. He now spends every Sunday morning meeting with stroke patients.
“It’s easy to get depressed about your health situation when you’re in the hospital,” says Steve. “I really enjoy meeting with current patients, telling them about my experience, listening to their concerns, and encouraging them while they recover. It’s very rewarding for me and I’m glad I can help others who are going through what I went through."
“If you ever need care for a stroke – but I hope you never do – go to the UPMC Rehabilitation Institute at UPMC Mercy,” says Steve. “I consider it my home away from home.”