Reposted from The Times Tribune

Stroke patients working to relearn basic life skills

During John Monahan’s time recovering from three strokes since December, he has appreciated therapists at Allied Rehab Hospital in Scranton.

He even lives with one – his wife, Marie.

A retired New York City homicide detective now living in Scranton, Mr. Monahan has faced sobering crime scenes in his line of work, but none of it prepared him for the theft of his health.

As the former policeman continues to recover, Mr. Monahan’s wife encourages him to keep fighting. They use memories of playing bagpipes with the New York City Police Department’s pipes and drums band and other experiences to keep him motivated.

Nicknamed “the silent mugger” by many people, strokes – which occur when part of blood flow to the brain stops – rob people of the lives they knew. Depending on the type and severity, strokes can prevent people from doing basic things, from walking, holding things in their hands, even inhibiting vision.

“They take everything you have,” Mr. Monahan, 63, said while sitting in a wheelchair during a recent physical therapy session at Allied.

With May designated as national stroke month to raise awareness, thousands of people like Mr. Monahan continue to struggle with recovery. When his first stroke struck in December, Mr. Monahan and his wife identified signals that he needed help. Soap fell out of his hands in the shower. About 10 minutes passed and he dropped a cup and then his keys. Then they noticed a slight droop on the left side of his face.

After a hospital stay, they were working on his recovery when Mr. Monahan suffered a massive stroke a month later and then another a few weeks later.

Returning home, Mr. Monahan realized life as he knew it had stopped. He couldn’t walk. He couldn’t button his shirts. He couldn’t shave. His wife said it was hard to see someone she loved experience such challenges.

“It was horrible,” said Mrs. Monahan. “He’s my best friend.”

Mrs. Monahan, director of speech pathology and audiology at the hospital, keeps watch over her special patient, visiting for parts of his sessions with other therapists. While his speech wasn’t affected by the strokes, Mrs. Monahan has basic knowledge of physical therapy and other information related to helping her husband’s recovery. She coordinates his care at home.

“It’s a great gift that I’ve used my clinical skills to help somebody I love,” she said. “But at the same time it’s heartbreaking.”

After months of out-patient care at Allied Rehab Hospital, Mr. Monahan credits great care from many therapists and nurses, along with advanced technology with his rate of recovery.

After the strokes, Mr. Monahan’s body seemed to have lost much of its memory. His legs forgot how to walk. His arms, hands and fingers also lost their basic functions.

“It’s as though you forget,” Mr. Monahan said. “When you don’t trust your leg to hold you anymore, you need something to help.”

That something for him was ZeroG, one of the world’s most advanced systems for people relearning how to walk. The system allows him to balance and stand without having to carry all of his weight. As he improved, Mr. Monahan carried more of his weight.

The first time he tried the machine, three people had to help him out of a wheelchair and into ZeroG’s harness, attached to equipment on the ceiling. These days, he requires limited assistance and carries 80 percent of his own weight during his walking sessions.

Mr. Monahan said he isn’t looking for a miracle, only small victories each day.

“The first time I walked up four steps,” he said. “It was like I went up Mount Everest.”