‘They told me the window for my recovery had closed.”
Stroke survivors who exhaust traditional methods of care are routinely told by medical professionals,“there’s nothing else that can be done.” The doctors and therapists move on to the next patient and survivors face the devastating prospect of spending the rest of their livesunable to walk.
In truth, study after study shows that the “window of recovery” does not exist. It is time for the medical community to raise their expectations and their standard of care for stroke patients.Stroke is the number one cause of disability in the United States — our healthcare system is leaving millions behind.For Stroke Awareness Month, we want toshout this news far and wide: it’s never too late to recover from a stroke.
Researchers in Arizona and across the worldhave demonstrated with a variety of interventions that it is possible for the brain and the body to be retrained and learn how to function again even decades after a stroke. We live in a golden age of stroke care where new options become available every year to break through plateausand help survivorscontinue to recover mobility. Unfortunately, stroke survivors often aren’t aware of these breakthroughs.
Significant progress has been made on the drug front to reverse the effects of a stroke. Using injections of an anti-inflammatory drug, Dr. Edward Tobinick in Fort Lauderdale has shown phenomenal improvements are possible in mobility and brain function.By injecting the drug into the spinal cord of stroke survivors, 80 percent of Dr. Tobinick’sstroke patients showed improvements in their ability to walk.
New physical therapy programs are also being developed to improve recovery for stroke survivors. Dr. George Hornby and colleagues at the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago have started to treat stroke survivors less as patients and more as athletes. The exercises more resemble football practice than the everyday coping mechanisms such as transferring from a wheelchair to a toilet that are often the focus of post-stroke care. The results at RIC have been very strong: Senator Mark Kirk of Illinois triumphantly climbedthree dozen flights of stairs at the Willis Tower stair climb less than nine months after a severely debilitating stroke.
A new device called the Kickstart Walking System is currently being studied at A.T. Still University in Mesa, AZ, and it’s showing equally inspiring results. Stroke survivors who are five, ten, and even twenty years post-stroke who have exhausted the traditional medical options try Kickstart and quickly leave their wheelchairs behind. Kickstart users often break out in tears of joy upon taking their first Kickstart steps. Quickly they meet small but important milestones such as being able to walk into a favorite restaurant or being able to shop for groceries without a wheelchair for the first time in years.
Kickstart users are achieving independence as they rediscover the activities they used to enjoy before their strokes - hiking, ballroom dancing, and even fly fishing. Being able to walk independently unlocks limitless possibilities for enjoyable and meaningful lives.
For Stroke Awareness Month, we want to reiterate: recovery is never impossible, the brain is extremely adaptable, and independent lifestyles are achievable and possible with the right combination of attitude, hard work, therapy and technology. It is time to bring these new therapies and technologies to the forefront of stroke care, because life is worth walking.
Jim Lynskey, PT, Ph.D. is an Associate Professor of Physical Therapy at A.T. Still University in Mesa and specializes in neurological rehabilitation. Brian Glaister is the President and CEO of Cadence Biomedical, which manufactures the Kickstart Walking System to help stroke survivors walk.