Overcoming the Odds and Learning to Live Again
HATTIESBURG, Miss. – (May 6, 2016) After settling back in to an armchair, he began his story, “I’m Bob Jones, and I had a stroke on February 26.” Jones recalls waking up that morning feeling light-headed and weak. The right side of his body felt numb, and he was unable to walk more than a few steps before falling.
“I immediately called my son and explained to him that I was not able to walk. I sort of knew the signs of a stroke so I happened to look in the mirror and see that my face was not drooped. I could smile, and I could talk,” he said.
Many doctors recommend using the acronym, F.A.S.T., to remember the warning signs of a stroke. “F,” stands for “face,” a reminder to check the face, as Jones did, to see if there is drooping on one side. “A” is for “arms.” People who are experiencing a stroke often cannot lift both arms above their heads. “S” represents “speech.” Some patients having a stroke slur their speech or have difficulty talking normally. And, “T” stands for “time.” Any delay in treatment could mean more extensive, permanent damage or even death.
“If you think you or someone else may be having a stroke, you need to get them to the emergency room rapidly, and the best way to do that is to call 911. By that time, the stroke has already happened and some damage will be irreparable. However, the sooner a patient can get to the emergency room, the better chance their physician will have of minimizing the damage to the area surrounding the stroke,” said Forrest General neurologist, Jose Fernandez, M.D., Hattiesburg Clinic.
After Jones called his son, he was able to make it to the emergency room at Forrest General Hospital, which is recognized by the Mississippi State Department of Health and Mississippi Healthcare Alliance as the area’s only Primary Stroke Care Center. On the following Monday, February 29, after spending three days in the hospital, Jones’ physician recommended transferring to the Inpatient Rehabilitation Unit to begin the recovery process.
“Because there are different ways that strokes can affect areas of the brain, there are also different ways that it can affect your body functionally,” said Donna Wheeless, RPT, director of Rehabilitation Services at Forrest General. She explained, “It can affect you in your strength or range of motion, and that’s an example of when physical therapy can come into play. Occupational therapy can assist when there are challenges with daily activities such as being able to put on your shoes in the morning and get dressed. A stroke can also affect your speech or your swallowing function. Speech pathologists are able to help the patient improve in those areas. People have different limitations and sometimes need a team of rehabilitation services to help them in recovery.”
Jones spent 2 weeks on the Inpatient Rehabilitation Unit completing 3 hours of intensive therapy each day.
“Rehab after a stroke is important because the body needs to recover; it needs to retrain pathways in the brain. Studies have shown that starting intensive therapy soon after a stroke results in a better recovery. This is not only because of the brain tissue that recovers, but also because the brain begins new pathways and learns how to compensate for deficits,” said Forrest General and Hattiesburg Clinic neurologist, Joshua Maksi, M.D.
Jones did not require much speech therapy, but because of the difficulty he faces walking and performing other everyday tasks, he still attends regular physical and occupational therapy sessions in the Outpatient Rehabilitation Unit at Forrest General. He says the difference in his progress is “like night and day” from when he first began rehabilitation. Now, the therapists primarily work with him on strengthening his core and leg muscles and on improving balance using a stability ball, which he describes as one of the more difficult exercises. “They are doing a wonderful job of keeping me strong and making me do things that I didn’t think that I was going to be able to do,” he said.
Jones also recognizes the importance of what happens outside of the hospital in his recovery. Throughout this challenging experience, he has benefited from an outstanding support system of family and friends who encouraged him along the way. Jones has spent a large part of his life working for and serving his church as a music minister and now through his role in senior ministries. With tears in his eyes, he talked about the outpouring of affection he has received during this difficult time.
“I have a great support system from my church. People, and their prayers, particularly, are so very important to my recovery, and the cards and letters and food. The phone calls always mean a lot – to know that people are thinking about you. It’s great to have friends as well as wonderful family to support you during such a time as this,” Jones said.
Jones happily shares his story with others as a way to shed light on this often debilitating condition. According to the Mississippi State Department of Health, “Cardiovascular disease (CVD), including heart disease and stroke, is the leading cause of death in Mississippi, accounting for over a third of all deaths in the state. Mississippi's CVD mortality rate remains the highest in the nation.”
People who have high risk factors for heart disease or stroke, such as high blood pressure, should take advantage of local screenings, like the Dare to C.A.R.E. screening program at Forrest General. This comprehensive cardiovascular disease early detection and education program is provided in partnership with Hattiesburg Clinic Vascular Surgeons to qualifying men and women in the Pine Belt. To learn more about heart disease and stroke or to register for a Dare to CARE event, visit forrestgeneral.com/stroke.