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Memorial Helps Put Young Stroke Patient Back in the Running

Active, athletic and adventurous, Joanie considered herself the picture of good health. A runner and scuba diver, she was in the midst of preparing to compete in a marathon, when life took an unexpected course.

"Thankfully, my husband was home unusually early from work," says Joanie. "I told him I felt like I was having a stroke. I was only 48 years old. I couldn't believe this was happening to me."

Her husband took her immediately to Memorial Regional Hospital South where emergency room physicians ran a battery of tests, including an MRI and CT, but the tests did not reveal a diagnosis. Because Joanie had been scuba diving the day before, she was transferred to another local hospital for hyperbaric therapy, a common treatment for decompression sickness in scuba divers.

When Joanie's condition did not improve, another MRI was taken. In some cases, it can take up to 48 hours for stroke damage to appear, and this time, Joanie's MRI revealed she had indeed suffered a stroke.

A Determined Spirit

"I just looked out the hospital window at the water and said to myself, 'I WILL walk again,'" Joanie says. "I was ready to get started, so I asked to be transferred back to Memorial Regional Hospital South."

Once admitted to the Rehabilitation Institute of South Florida at Memorial Regional Hospital South, Joanie began an intensive, personalized rehabilitation program.

"I was determined to leave the hospital within one week," said Joanie. "It was like someone had unplugged the cord that connected my brain to my legs. I tried as hard as I could to take a step, mentally screaming at my legs, 'you know what to do!' but they just wouldn't move. The therapist would physically lift one foot and place it down, then the other. Finally, the connection was made. My feet remembered."

In addition to regaining use of her arms and legs, the rehabilitation team would help Joanie practice daily, practical tasks.

"For example, I walk my dogs every morning, so I literally practiced bending over and pretending to clean up after my dogs," says Joanie. "I was dizzy and lost my balance. I realized that I needed to re-learn even the simplest tasks."

Once discharged, Joanie continued her daily therapy at home. She had her sights set on mastering even bigger goals.

"Every day I ran on the treadmill, gripping the handles to keep from falling," says Joanie. "I watched underwater videos as I ran, swearing to myself that one day, I would dive again."

Determination and a positive spirit paid off. A follow-up angiogram showed two torn arteries in her neck, a possible explanation for her stroke. Once the arteries healed, doctors gave Joanie the green light to dive again.

"I bawled my eyes out the first time I dove again," says Joanie. "It's overwhelming to think of all I have accomplished. I couldn't have done it without the amazing support of the rehabilitation team, my family and friends."

An Advocate and an Inspiration

Because of her amazing recovery and attitude, Joanie was asked to serve on both the hospital's Patient Advisory Council board and as a patient representative on the quarterly Physician's Quality Control Panel.

"It's a huge responsibility," said Joanie. "I'm honored to be able to give back to Memorial and advocate for its patients."

Most importantly, Joanie hopes her story will inspire others to find courage and to cherish every day.

"My perspective has changed the most since my stroke. I even had wrist bands engraved with the words 'Got Balance,' a metaphor for not only how I feel physically, but for my life in general," says Joanie. "I completed a half marathon and recently returned from a dive trip in Indonesia. I truly have my life back – thanks to Memorial!"


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