Stroke survivors describe road to recovery

January 23, 2012 8:40:10 PM PST
Recovering from the kind of stroke that U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk suffered can be a long, tedious process. ABC7 heard from stroke survivors who know firsthand what it takes.

Mickey Clancy of west suburban Lombard had a stroke similar to the one suffered by Kirk. It's been 15 years since Clancy had her stroke.

"I was not able to walk," she told ABC7. "I was not able to stand. I was not able to sit up."

Like Sen. Mark Kirk, Clancy's stroke was ischemic, meaning that an artery to the brain is blocked. Initially in denial, Clancy, a quality control analyst for a biotech company at the time, wanted to know just one thing.

"I said, oh, I have to get back to work. That's all I was focused on, was getting back to work," said Clancy.

Before she could do that though, Clancy underwent 13 weeks of therapy, much of it dedicated to learn how to do basic things like chores again.

"It was six hours a day, Monday to Friday from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. We had physical therapy, speech therapy, occupational therapy," she said.

Six months after her stroke, Clancy was back at work, but it didn't last.

"It was hard for me to realize that I couldn't do it anymore," Clancy said.

Every stroke is different, of course. The key, says Rush neurosurgeon Dr. Michael Chen, is getting in quick enough to limit the amount of damage done to the brain.

"The goal is hopefully early on, by addressing the underlying cause and minimizing the amount of brain affected you can get them started at a better level," said Dr. Chen.

"It's going to be slow-going. Every stroke survivor wants to have it be like it was today. I want it yesterday. And it's not going to be that way," said Clancy.

And though Clancy did have to give up her job eventually, she found a new passion. She is co-founder and president of the Stroke Survivors Empowering Each Other network, the first survivor-led advocacy group in the nation. And she has some advice for Sen. Kirk.

"He's going to have a new normal. How he gets to that new normal is how his rehab goes, how he accepts it," she said.

Clancy says that she is still recovering, likening stroke rehab to an alcoholic who spends the rest of his life in recovery.

Other stroke survivors have experiences similar to those of Clancy.

Golf is one of Wayne Kendall's passions. Since suffering a stroke last February he finds it difficult to keep his balance while swinging a club. It's a small sacrifice, however. Kendall and his wife were actually leaving for the hospital to get checked out when he passed out.

"We got into the car and in the garage I had a seizure and a then a stroe," said Kendall.

Kendall was fortunate to get medical treatment quickly.

Retired state representative Bob Biggins still feels the affects of the stroke he suffered seven years ago. He says he has recovered about 90 percent of his mental and physical capacities. He now serves on the board of a stroke survivors support group.

"I blacked out, eventually found out that I fell to the ground on the main floor and was assisted by people who passing by on their lunch hour," said Biggins.

Among those who came to his aid in the city-county building when he collapsed several years ago was then Lieutenant Governor Pat Quinn. It was Quinn who had his cell phone handy and called paramedics.