Imagine… your life partner, your best friend, your go-to person suddenly can’t do the things that you two used to enjoy. In fact, she can’t do a lot of things she used to do just to get through the day. That’s what it can feel like when your spouse suffers a stroke. You can feel like you lost your loved one because life has changed dramatically.
Four years ago, Corrie suffered a massive stroke which left her with only half of her brain function. She had to relearn a lot of things, starting with walking. Corrie had a pretty intense rehabilitation program where she trained her walking every day. And her husband, Nico, would come to practice with her as well. He actually left his job to help Corrie in her recovery. He wanted to have his wife back, so he was willing to do anything to get her on track.
The first innovative breakthrough
Each day Nico would hold Corrie’s hand and walk with her. They would stroll together until one day Nico thought, “She might always walk this slowly.” He didn’t like that possibility, and it scared him because that was not the partner he used to have. And so out of instinct, he grabbed Corrie’s hand and pulled her quickly. And guess what? She didn’t fall, and she didn’t get hurt. Instead, she walked fast. He did this at first out of intuition and fear that she might not get any better, but it worked. Corrie didn’t have time to think about her walking, but in that unconscious moment, she was able to speed up. And actually, they were on to something.
Nico started to read about recovery after a stroke, and he learned that the brain needs to start making new connections. And by forcing the body to react was one way that helped Corrie’s brain start this rewiring process. And that was the seed that began their innovative rehabilitation process.
Identifying problems and creating ways to solve them
Nico had a goal. He wanted his wife back to normal, so he would look for ways to solve the problems he saw. To help with her gait, they tried something they called ‘walk the plank’. Nico would walk on the street and Corrie would have to balance and walk on the curb. It helped. She started to walk more steadily and with a more regular pattern.
At a certain point, Corrie’s walking was quite good. However, climbing stairs still posed a problem. So what did Nico do? He looked for the longest set of stairs he could find – 118 of them in a forest. And he started walking them with Corrie. At first, just a few up and just a few down. But they kept working on this until they could do all of them up and down several times in one go.
The next thing they noticed was that Corrie’s left arm kept cramping up. So Nico thought about this a bit. When they walked, he always pulled her left arm. Then he decided that doesn’t help because she wasn’t using that side if he was holding it. So he switched things up. He started to pull her right hand to get her to walk faster. The imbalance this caused made her move her left arm to try to stabilize herself. Again, forcing Corrie to react helped her regain muscle function and control while rewiring her brain.
Over and over, Corrie’s brain was forming new connections because she was doing instead of thinking.
One problem they couldn’t fix, but innovation could help
Four years later, Corrie can do almost everything. It’s amazing. If you didn’t know she had a stroke, you wouldn’t notice. She walks as quickly and smoothly as anyone else. She can walk confidently up and down stairs.
The only thing that persists is her hemiagnosia, and this can’t be cured. Hemiagnosia is a vision problem that affects many stroke patients and for Corrie, it means she can’t see the left side of her visual field. For example, if two people are sitting in front of her, she wouldn’t be able to see the one on the left.
In typical Nico fashion, he started to search for a solution for this. They tried prism glasses – didn’t help. He searched for some sort of “smart glasses” – nothing. So he finally started to figure out his own solution. What he came up with was a type of glasses with a camera and a tiny screen. The camera faces left and projects its image on a small screen on the right lens of the glasses. This way Corrie can see what is happening on the left side much like looking in the side mirrors of a car. She loves her glasses, and they allow her to be a lot more independent.
Having someone on your side
Through her hard work, her husband’s innovation, and her willingness to go along with his unconventional methods, Corrie has been able to return to the life she had before. And Nico got his wife back. That goes to show you the power of persistence, thinking outside of the box, and love.