Dennis Suelter was a busy account executive who led a fast-paced life servicing his printing clients. An avid outdoorsman, Dennis, 60, also enjoyed hunting and fishing near his hometown of Salina, Kan. The active father and grandfather had no reason to suspect that he’d soon be a stroke survivor.
On Sunday evening, Jan. 11, 2009, Dennis chatted on the phone with his wife, Tracy, who was out of town. The last thing he recalls telling Tracy was that he was calling it a night and heading to bed. When Dennis didn’t show up for work the next morning and wasn’t answering his home or cell phone, his boss became concerned and called Tracy. She quickly called neighbors who broke into their home and found Dennis unconscious on their bedroom floor where he’d laid 12-14 hours. “I remember my buddy standing over me saying he thought I had a stroke because my face was droopy,” said Dennis.
Dennis was stabilized at Salina Regional Medical Center and spent nine days there before he transferred to Madonna Rehabilitation Hospital. His son, Jason, who resides in Lincoln, knew about Madonna, and Tracy researched the hospital on the Internet. “I found Madonna was one of the three top rehabilitation facilities in the Midwest,” said Tracy who felt confident Dennis was in the right place.
About 795,000 strokes occur in United States each year,1 yet many people aren’t aware of the symptoms. Dennis shared that “stroke” was a foreign word to him. “I didn’t know a thing about stroke,” he admitted. Dennis got an informative lesson from his case manager, Nancy Hall, who explained that a stroke, or cerebrovascular accident (CVA), is the sudden death of brain cells in a localized area due to inadequate blood flow. Dennis appreciated how Nancy used a graphic illustration of brain cells to define a stroke. “Nancy shared how my brain will figure out new routes to perform tasks,” said Dennis.
The stroke damaged the left side of Dennis’ body. “He couldn’t sit or stand when he was admitted to Madonna,” said Tracy. Dennis was determined to regain his independence—to walk again and use his left hand. His biggest hurdle was getting his medication regulated to overcome the excruciating joint pain. Once doctors pinpointed the right combination of medication, Dennis began to sail through therapy.
The Body Weight Support Treadmill Training (BWSTT) was a little intimidating to Dennis initially. “At first, I called it the ‘dreadmill’,” Dennis recalled. The use of the Bioness L300™ was used in conjunction with the BWSTT sessions to stimulate Dennis’s left leg muscles. Gradually, his leg circulation and strength increased. “It’s great technology to get you working towards walking again,” said Dennis.
On Feb. 25, Dennis transitioned to the outpatient program. In a recent session, Caroline Hadland, occupational therapist, laid a sponge on the table. She instructed Dennis to pick it up with his left hand. Dennis responded “I can’t do that,” and recounted how Caroline gently told him that phrase isn’t used at Madonna. She encouraged him to mentally envision his left hand moving towards the sponge. “I was cheering that hand on and, guess what? I got the sponge!” exclaimed Dennis.
Nearing the end of his outpatient treatment, Dennis is closing in on his goals. “I never realized how much a stroke could affect my life,” he said. He’s anxious to get back to a normal routine of home and work. “And when I do leave, I will walk out those doors and button my shirt with my left hand,” stated Dennis confidently.