Strokemark has been improving lives of stroke survivors step by step. For stroke survivors like Dr. Hecht or Mrs. Busse, their stroke came suddenly and changed everything. Dr. Hecht, a psychologist, went from treating patients to being one. Mrs. Busse and her husband had active lives one day and felt they lost their social contacts soon after the stroke. For many patients, their way back to normal seems daunting, their hope and motivation in rehab dwindles.
But not for these two and others like them. They have worked with Strokemark to reclaim their independent lives. In the last year, they went through our courses. They started at different levels, ranging from being able to walk steadily to walking with a cane and having problems with mobility and spasticity. However, all of them found the Strokemark program helpful and have noticed improvements in their abilities.
Putting our courses through the test
On a beautiful, sunny, crisp September morning in the Netherlands, the Strokemark team welcomed ten patients and their caregivers to Ortho-vision Brunssum, a state-of-the-art clinic. This location was new for our patient group because this particular day marked the end of our Walking Course 2.0. We wanted to see how our participants have improved during our course and to get feedback about what they thought.
For some of our patients, this has been their third 6-week program with us. For others, this has only been their first. Regardless of the journey that brought them here, each patient has worked hard on their recovery to get to this point.
On this final day, we had a dream team of therapists and access to high-tech equipment to put our patients through many tests. To name a few, we performed a timed-up-and-go test, we tested balance with a foot scanner, we measured their oxygen and CO2 levels while they rode a stationary bike, and we looked at how they were able to walk on an inclined treadmill. We were able to see how far along they’ve come and pinpoint areas where they still need to improve.
It was an exciting day, and all of the patients earned it. Showing up every Saturday at 9 am to class takes real commitment, but that’s what our test patients have been doing. No matter what the weather or where we met, they came to our course week after week. However, showing up was only part of the equation. They also worked hard during the week by doing the challenges we lined out for them.
We sat down with each patient, heard their stories, and learned how they reached their current point.
When life changes beyond your control
Life is entirely different after a stroke and your focus changes. After her stroke, Mrs. Buse and her husband found it to keep up with their circle of friends. Luckily, they found Strokemark to help them on their way. Mrs. Buse joined our group during our second course and has been diligent about her exercises — you should see her with the elastic bands! She and her husband feel that life is starting to improve because of our program. Our challenges have pushed her to get better and do more.
Dr. Hecht has been a participant in our group since the beginning. His sudden role reversal from treating patients to being a patient was hard to deal with, but he didn’t let it get him down. Instead, he looks forward. He continues with the Strokemark daily exercises and sets small goals for himself each day – sometimes it can be as simple as walking a certain distance. Mostly, he is grateful for his progress and for the lessons he has learned from this experience. Life is different for him, but “life is good,” he says.
Getting beyond, ‘why me?’
Our youngest patient was 27 years old when she had her stroke, and it left her in a wheelchair. It felt unfair to her. She led a pretty reasonable lifestyle, enjoyed going out with friends, and then at a time when she should have been looking forward to and planning her future, she couldn’t even speak clearly. Ms. Mosbach joined our first test group to improve her walking. Her mother drove her an hour each Saturday morning to join, and they practiced the daily challenges we gave them. When she started with us, she could only walk about ⅓ of a mile. Now she can walk 3 miles a day. Also, by following our program and making new neural connections, she experienced a surprise bonus of improving her speech as well. She is now planning to get back to her studies and finish school.
For some people, it’s thinking beyond themselves that gives them the motivation to keep going. Mrs. Bello, who became our resident expert jumper, has her three kids in mind. She is doing pretty well but wants to make sure she continues to improve so that she can be the best mom she can be. She finds the daily exercises useful and looks forward to getting more every week so that she can continue making the same kind of progress she has seen so far.
Having someone encourage you
Many participants enjoyed the energy of the course. They found the Strokemark team to be supportive, knowledgeable, and enthusiastic. Our team was motivating in ways that made a huge impact. One patient, Mr. Breur, started with us during our Walking Course 2.0. He showed up in a wheelchair on his first day, not expecting to do many of the exercises, but he was interested in trying. As a former athlete, he knew that training would require hard work, and he was willing to put in the effort. Our team looked at him, what he was able to do, and encouraged him to walk a little each day. The next week, Mr. Breur showed up again to class, but this time without his wheelchair. Sometimes a patient needs some encouragement to try to do more.
One of the most important things about the weekly meetings for our participants was the group dynamic. Exchanging experiences with each other was helpful. Seeing people at different levels in their recovery was encouraging. Mrs. Ottmanns, who began her journey with us halfway through our arm and hand course, said that coming to the group reminded her of how far she’s come and gives her hope about what’s possible. She told us that her children notice the improvements she’s making before she does, but she also feels a significant change in her walking abilities. She has come such a long way that now she is inspiring others. She even filmed instructional videos with us so that we can bring this course to more people who need it.
Personal reasons for sticking with the program
Some of our patients are doing incredibly well. If you saw them walking down the street, you wouldn’t recognize that they suffered a stroke. So why do they show up week to week? What do they get out of the course? These patients usually have personal reasons.
Mrs. Martin, a retired English teacher, looks like she could be running the course. She comes with amazing energy and quickly picks up on any new exercise. Mrs. Martin had her stroke a little over a year ago and is doing very well. She finds the course motivating because of the instructions and the group atmosphere. However, she lives alone and knows that she needs to be top fit in order to take care of herself and make sure that she doesn’t suffer a second stroke. She doesn’t let one minute of the day pass by without using it as a training opportunity. She incorporates our exercises into her daily activities and has even managed to integrate some squat forms into her gardening routine!
To the outside world, Mr. Schiefelbein seems to function normally. When he comes to the group, some might wonder why he’s there. He can walk steadily, speak clearly, and even ride his bike. However, just because he can ride his bike, doesn’t mean he’s ready to take it out for a spin. He is not comfortable with his balance yet, so he keeps coming to our course to work on that aspect of his recovery. He uses the exercises that train balance repeatedly, hoping to feel good about getting back on his bike.
Hard work pays off
Following our program and keeping up with the challenges is hard work. Improvements are very individual. It’s ok to modify some of the exercises to make them more accessible to you. Mr. Landshat, for example, has made adaptations with his therapist for the challenges that seem out of reach. This way, he can work the same muscles, but just in another way. Now he can do specific exercises, like the squat, that he wasn’t able to do right away.
Another dedicated Strokemark patient, Mr. Georgi, can walk about 20 miles a week now after completing all three courses with us! He claims what helped him was always pushing himself to his limits. Mr. Georgi offered a few words of encouragement to other stroke survivors, “Push yourself to the limits to see improvements and be satisfied with the progress you make. Take your recovery step by step, do things on your own, and set small goals. Most importantly, remember that the journey you take is the destination, so be patient with yourself.”
Get on board
Our test patients have all seen improvements. That’s why we wanted to bring our courses to more people. Contact us to find out how you can get started.