Deb James is a born nurturer. She relishes her roles as wife, mother, grandmother, sister and aunt. As an LPN-C, Debbie offers encouragement to patients every day. “Deb is always helping people,” said Dan, her husband of 37 years. Deb’s caregiver role was temporarily reversed when the Humboldt, Neb., native suffered a debilitating stroke.
On Nov. 28, 2009, Deb was driving to her sister’s house when her cheek went numb. Deb, 55, assumed from her medical knowledge, that she’d contracted Bell’s palsy, a condition causing sudden facial nerve paralysis. However, as Deb helped her nephew with homework that afternoon, her health began rapidly deteriorating.
When Deb returned home, Dan noticed his wife’s speech was slurred. Deb still maintained it was Bell’s palsy, until she reached into the cupboard for a glass and couldn’t grip it. Dan and the couple’s daughter, Laura, suspected Deb was having a stroke — a suspicion that was confirmed with a CT brain scan at Johnson County Hospital in Tecumseh. As with most
strokes, time proved to be of the essence. “Another half hour and she may have been gone,” said Dan.
Deb has no family history of stroke, but several members suffer from high blood pressure — a condition Deb learned she had, too. High blood pressure may have been a contributing factor to Deb’s stroke.
After treatment at BryanLGH West, Deb transitioned to Madonna Dec. 3, anxious to regain her independence. The stroke had compromised her speech and rendered her right leg, arm and hand useless.
Deb was impressed that Madonna stressed family involvement during her rehabilitation. “I had a huge support system with my family, especially Dan, and that made a big difference in my recovery,” said Deb. Dan’s brother stepped in to handle the farming operation so Dan could support Deb in her recovery.
Speech therapists helped Deb with a variety of strategies to help restore lost language skills. Within a month, Deb rapidly progressed and was almost at her pre-stroke level.
Building up the muscles that were damaged by the stroke became a priority. Deb’s therapy team utilized advanced technology, like the Body Weight Support Treadmill and the Bioness™ electrical stimulation device.
A big milestone for Deb was the first time she could take a step. She remembers thinking, “I’m going to make it; I’m going to walk out of here.”
Every step, no matter how small, was encouraging to Deb. “I realized the therapists won’t make you do something if you can’t,” said Deb. Frustrated that her grip was slow in returning, Deb appreciated the nurses and therapists pointing out all her small achievements. She graduated from her wheelchair to using a cane with minimal assistance.
On Feb. 18, Deb transitioned to Madonna’s Rehabilitation Day program to work on everyday living skills. Caroline Hadland, occupational therapist, said it was inspirational working with Deb, who pushed herself hard in therapy.
“It’s been fun to create tools and modifications to increase Deb’s independence at home and work,” added Caroline.
By March 24, Deb was back home to the farm and the family she loves. Her future plans include getting back to her nursing job and being in the stands for her grandchildren’s ball games this summer. “I want to be there to cheer them on,” said Deb.
The stroke taught Deb how strong she was both physically and mentally, and not to take things for granted. “We’re fortune; we count our blessings every day.”