On Sept. 22, Valerie Able had a nagging headache she was keeping at bay with aspirin. Two days later, Valerie slumped to the ground and began to seizure. LeRoy, her husband of 37 years, frantically dialed 911. CAT scans at Nemaha County Hospital revealed a bleed on the lower left hemisphere of Valerie’s brain. En route to Lincoln for further testing, Valerie suffered another stroke. Doctors at St. Elizabeth’s Medical Center confirmed her brain was swelling, causing Valerie’s speech to became incoherent.
Valerie now realizes the severe headache may have been a warning sign. “I didn’t know anything about stroke before coming to Madonna,” said Valerie, who began her recovery on Oct. 4.
Prior to her stroke, sixty-hour work days were common for 56-year-old Valerie, the elementary/middle school principal at Lourdes Central Catholic Schools in Nebraska City. Valerie prides herself on organization and lives by a weekly schedule in the position she’s held for 31 years. Finding her voice and regaining the ability to communicate were paramount to Valerie.
Valerie’s stroke impacted the language dominant region of her brain, resulting in a language impairment called aphasia. It was difficult for Valerie to put her thoughts into words and comprehend language. “When I first arrived, I could only speak one or two words at a time,” said Valerie. She required extra time and support to generate her thoughts. “It was really frustrating not being able to verbalize,” said Valerie. Reading the newspaper exasperated Valerie as her concentration waned.
Undaunted, Valerie battled through the frustration and kept practicing. Sarah Beherens, speech-language pathologist, witnessed Valerie’s drive and remarkable progress. “Through Valerie’s motivation to succeed, she demonstrated the ability to overcome her limitations with amazing speed,” said Sarah. Valerie participated intently in daily therapy addressing expressive language skills, including word retrieval, writing and auditory/written communication.
Valerie loves to bake, but following her stroke, comprehending a simple brownie recipe was challenging. “I am a good cook and I really look forward to baking again,” said Valerie. As her brain healed, Valerie could process more. Success came a week later as Valerie proudly pulled a batch of oatmeal cookies out of the oven.
LeRoy is Valerie’s biggest cheerleader, along with the staff and 125 students at Lourdes. Cards of encouragement and photos of her students boosted Valerie’s optimism. Daily Mass with LeRoy in the James E. Ryan Memorial Chapel reassures Valerie, a self-described woman of faith. The “Changes Group,” Madonna’s version of stroke education, armed Valerie with information on nutrition, recreation and stroke prevention. “It gave me a better understanding of the impairment of stroke and how I would heal,” said Valerie.
On Oct. 31, Valerie graduated to Madonna’s outpatient Rehabilitation Day Program where she continues her recovery. She looks forward to transitioning back to her roles as principal, wife, mother and grandmother of six. Thanksgiving will be extra special this year for Valerie and her family. “I have so many blessings – the stroke made me realize there’s a lot of people who care about me.”