Bert A.

On March 31 of 2019, Bert A woke up in the hospital unable to move his right side. “I was completely unaware while it was happening and I felt no pain after,” notes Bert. “It was a Saturday, and I wasn’t feeling well. Something felt wrong so I had my wife take me to the hospital. They couldn’t find anything right away so I was in observation for the night and then it just happened sometime the next morning.”

Mr. Ayers had suffered a small vessel brain stem stroke while in observation at the hospital.

According to the American Heart Association, brain stem strokes can have complex symptoms and can often be difficult to diagnose. A person may have vertigo, dizziness and severe imbalance without the early signs typical in strokes — face dropping, arm weakness and slurred speech. While hard to initially diagnose, small vessel strokes that affect the brain stem can be potentially devastating because the brain stem is a relatively small space that controls vital functions, including consciousness, blood pressure, breathing and movement.

“I consider myself fortunate in a way. With how severe this type of stroke can be, I may not have been able to move my right side, but I was able to speak and I was breathing on my own.”

Following a brief stay at Regional Hospital in Scranton, Bert was transferred to Allied Services Rehab Hospital.

“When I started, I had absolutely no use of the right side of my body. I came in an ambulance on a stretcher, but I told them I was walking out!”

Bert insisted that leaving with a walker wasn’t even an option. A cane at most was all he was willing to do. He had a business to get back to. In fact, he had several businesses to get back to.

Bert owns and operates a commercial complex in the Newton area of Clarks Summit called Red Barn Village with his brother Wayne and wife Nancy. The complex consists of 15 apartments and other commercial businesses including a grocery store and a bed and breakfast. “You can’t stock grocery store shelves when you have to push a walker around” he said.

Admittedly, even with his Emergency Medical Service (EMS) training Bert said he did not know much about rehab facilities, physical therapy or occupational therapy. “I had never even spent a night in the hospital until my stroke. This was all new to me. To be honest a therapist sounded like a pretty cushy job. Well, the next 26 days would prove to be anything but that.”

In the days and weeks that followed, Bert began a very intense rehabilitation regime that would help him to regain control and build up the strength of his right side. “My occupational therapist Carol would put this glove-like thing on me that would stimulate my fingers. Now, I had nothing in that hand before therapy and as time went on it worked. It was a big deal the first day that my thumb moved ever so slightly on its own.”

The “glove” Bert is referring to is the Ness H200, a piece of Functional Electrical Stimulation (FES) technology that can dramatically assist patients with neurological disorders, including stroke, that affect the function of the arm and hand. The NESS H200 can help the hand open and close, reduce stiffness, increase range of motion and strength, improve circulation and assist in regaining awareness of an impaired limb - and is just one of the many pieces of technology used to help Bert get back on his feet.

Bert also used a device called the Zero-G. The Zero-G gait training system works by providing dynamic body-weight support to a patient, while the patient is wearing a fitted harness. The support of the Zero-G compensates for weakness or poor coordination permitting intensive therapy sessions earlier in a patient’s recovery. With the patient supported by the system therapists are then able to focus on the patient’s movement.

Just like he said he would, Bert walked out of Allied Services Rehab Hospital on April 29, 2019 with only a cane. “I only needed the cane for about 4 weeks after leaving inpatient therapy and I was also able to drive a limited amount shortly after.”

Just over a month after his stroke, Bert was back to running the Red Barn Village and still continues to make progress in outpatient therapy today. “I still struggle a little bit with a limp and have limited strength in my leg and arm, but I make improvements and get stronger every day.”