Jan's Stroke Story

Five days after Jan celebrated her 65th birthday, her life was changed forever. She had just gotten home from having dinner with friends.  While she was changing clothes she suddenly fell.  Thankfully, she landed on her bed avoiding any major injury.  She felt like her world had shifted into ‘slow motion’. Initially, she was unable to move her body much less call for help.  Jan recalls “I absolutely could not work my phone.”  Unable to move for two long hours, Jan heard a voice in her head telling her to get help. She said, “I knew I had to get up; all I could think about were my grandchildren.” Not remembering exactly how, she made her way to her neighbor’s apartment.

“I could not talk at that point. I knocked on the door. When my neighbor answered, she could tell there was something wrong, but she didn’t know what. I pointed to my mouth so she knew I couldn’t talk. Somehow, I was able to get my son-in-law’s phone number in my phone. She asked ‘call that number’? I nodded my head. She waited with me until Joel got here. Joel took me to the hospital. I remember Joel calling my daughter, saying ‘we don’t have any idea what happened, but we know Jan can’t talk so we know there is a problem’. At that point, I was still able to walk. Once I laid on the hospital bed, I couldn’t get back up.”

Initially, Jan was diagnosed with a Urinary Tract Infection. Jill shared “When I arrived, I asked my mom if she knew who I was and what my name was. She just stared at me. She was aware, but she couldn’t say it. I didn’t know that at the time. I thought my mom didn’t know who I was anymore. I lost it! I was so sad.”

The next day, the neurologist did an assessment and Jan was still not able to answer simple questions or even state letters or numbers. An MRI confirmed she had suffered a stroke impacting the right side of her body. From that point on, her life was changed forever.

While in the hospital, Jan began to regain her ability to speak. She was transferred to another hospital for rehabilitation where she spent six weeks of intense therapy. She had to re-learn everything; from tying her shoes to walking. Being a former home economics teacher, daily tasks, such as cooking, laundry and sewing were second nature. These would all have to be relearned as well. With determination, hard work and time, Jan began to regain these skills. When she finally was able to go home, she was able to walk with only a cane.

Still, to this day, Jan states she has a hard time with numbers and some words. She has learned different ways around this and has learned to ask for help. Pre-stroke, Jan was an extremely social person. She loved hosting and attending Husker football parties, she was a group leader for Divorce Care through her church and enjoyed going to dinner and wineries with friends. Jan loves to help people. Being the one NEEDING the help was an adjustment for her.

Jan indicated she felt great the day of her stroke. Her medical history includes high blood pressure and diabetes. Although these are both risk factors for a stroke, Jan states they were in control.

According to the American Stroke Association, high blood pressure is the single most important risk factor for stroke because it’s the leading cause of stroke. Normal blood pressure is below 120/80. Having diabetes more than doubles your risk of stroke. Every two minutes, an adult with diabetes in the United States is hospitalized for stroke. Identifying your risk factors and working with your medical provider, you can focus on improving those risk factors to help prevent a stroke. Find out more about Risk Factors for Stroke.

“I believe my faith has gotten me to where I am today. I knew I needed to get better and I worked hard. My grandkids were my main motivation for seeking help that evening and my primary reason for my continued progress,” added Jan.

As the daughter and caregiver, Jill offers some insight to help prepare for a situation like this.

  • Keep an up-to-date medication list that is accessible; along with a list of clinicians who care for your loved one. Make this information available on a wallet sized card that your loved one can have at appointments.
  • Be sure you are your loved ones advocate; it is important to be their voice and to direct insurance and healthcare providers to follow up directly with you or the Power of Attorney.

“The company providing my mom’s disability insurance called my mom instead of me. She told them how she was doing GREAT and how much she had recovered; this led them to believe she no longer needed services, which was not the case at all. Yes, my mom was able to walk and was making progress, but she was not able to add 2 + 2; nor could she consistently say her kids’ names. She still qualified for disability coverage. It took a considerable amount of time and help from her physicians to present her case again to continue receiving the payments.

  • Ask therapists early on about equipment or devices needed for your loved one to go home. This will give you time to research your options, which can be helpful financially and give contractors time to install equipment if needed.
  • If your loved one is going to have a long stay in the hospital or rehab, have a guest book available for visitors to sign their name and the time they visited. This was helpful to use as a resource if my mom could not recall exactly what the doctor said. I would contact the person that was there at the time and they could help fill in the gaps.
  •  Have a Power of Attorney in place!!! Also, make sure you know where the original document is and have copies in multiple places. Although a lot of financial institutions may require additional information, this is a great starting point. Also, have a child or POA’s name on bank and financial information. This can save a considerable amount of time and headache.
  • Make sure someone is aware of the schedule of your loved one’s household bills and how to access those accounts.
  • Ask about community resources that may be available. One BIG one for us was Eastern Nebraska Office of Aging (ENOA). I was working full-time and had young kids. I was not able to give mom a ride to therapy five days a week. The ENOA would pick her up and take her to therapy for a small fee.

One take away for both Jan and Jill is to not be afraid to ask for and to take help offered to you. “I have made significant progress; with the help of therapy, my reading has improved, but will never be where it once was. We are thankful. I still struggle to find the right words at times and I have a really difficult time with numbers. Overall, people are really helpful and understanding, which makes this easier,” shared Jan.

Jill added, “this has been hard on my family. But, to be honest, some of her struggles, including the ability to find the right words, have been a source of laughter. Sometimes the craziest things will come out of her mouth or sent via text. Although this journey has not been easy, we have a choice – whether to laugh or cry and we choose to laugh.”

Additional Resources

American Stroke Association
Stroke Symptoms: By learning and sharing the F.A.S.T. warning signs, you just might save a life from stroke

Quick Stroke Treatment Can Save Lives
Why getting quick stroke treatment is important

Life After Stroke
There is life and hope after stroke. Guide for individuals and caregivers.