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October 06, 2011

Stroke patient has remarkable recovery thanks to Loyola team's help

Musician learned to speak and walk again, but Al Lewis wanted more

Al Lewis gives some credit for his extraordinary recovery from a stroke to a book he read a few years ago. “The Slight Edge taught me that if you do a little bit each day, a little bit, a little bit, you can make great progress. I applied that philosophy to my rehabilitation. I started moving my fingers, a little bit. Then my hand, and then my arm. A little bit. Now I go bike riding and I spend 30 minutes on an elliptical trainer. It all starts with just a little bit.”

Al’s story begins in October 2009, when he suddenly collapsed at a business meeting in Hillside. Fortunately, a doctor present recognized that he was having a stroke. An ambulance rushed him to Loyola’s emergency department. That was Al’s first step in a month-long journey that also included the Joint Commission accredited Primary Stroke Center with Disease Specific Certification, the Neurosciences Intensive Care Unit (Neurosciences ICU), and the rehabilitation center, all in one building.

Stroke is the leading cause of long-term disability in the United States. The faster stroke is recognized and properly treated, the better the chance for recovery.

Loyola treats about 400 to 500 strokes each year and participates in several clinical trials related to stroke and stroke care. “Yes, we have all of the latest technologies, but it’s the experienced nurses, therapists and physicians working collaboratively with the patient and the family that make the real difference in stroke care,” said Michael Schneck, MD, professor of neurology and neurological surgery, Loyola University Chicago Stritch School of Medicine and medical director, Neurosciences ICU. “We treat patients in one integrated area, from their first day in the Neurosciences ICU to their last day in the rehab unit. We work together to get the patient out of the hospital and on to the next level of care as soon as possible. Loyola’s single unit, multidisciplinary team approach doesn’t always make a difference, but it can.”

Al’s stroke was caused by severe bleeding in his brain from a burst blood vessel. This type of hemorrhagic stroke tends to be more fatal than the more common ischemic strokes caused by blood clots. But patients who survive hemorrhagic strokes tend to have better recoveries.

“I feel very fortunate to be alive,” Al said. “My doctor told me that although half the people who have my kind of stroke don’t survive, when he looks at me he can’t even tell I had a stroke.”

Separating Loyola from many other area hospitals are its nationally and internationally ranked stroke-certified specialists and neurointensivists, like Dr. Schneck, all of whom specialize in the care of stroke patients.

“Loyola is the best hospital I’ve ever seen. When I arrived, they ran every test to make sure I was OK. My hospital room was as nice as a hotel room. All of the therapists kept pushing me, and I kept asking to do just a little bit more. I will never forget how the people at Loyola really cared about me as a person.”

The nurses in Loyola’s Neurosciences ICU also play an important role on the team. “In addition to treating the patient, we care for the family,” said Tara Bernier, RN (Neurosciences ICU). “When the patient is not alert, it can scare the family, so I offer them hope. I don’t want to give them false hope, but I’ve seen amazing things happen here. People who I thought would never walk out of the hospital have done so.”

One of the most important goals in Loyola’s stroke care is to help the patient avoid a second stroke. The rehabilitation process and follow-up visits are very important, as is the patient’s willingness to adopt a healthy lifestyle.

“The rules are pretty basic and well known,” Dr. Scheck said. “Exercise regularly, stick to a good diet and control any issues with blood pressure, diabetes or cholesterol. Aggressive attention to these factors doesn’t eliminate the risks of a second stroke but certainly reduces it.”

Al takes the advice seriously. He is increasing his exercise and following a good diet to stay healthy. The 55-year-old Chicago resident wants to enjoy more fun times with his wife, Shirley, and their daughter, Danielle.

Before his stroke, Al played the piano, clarinet and saxophone, and now he’s returning to music. “I’m playing some piano,” Al said in August. “You know, a little bit. A little bit. A little bit. In about six months, I’ll be playing like I used to – if I just keep doing a little bit.”

One can imagine the Loyola therapists who watched Al apply this philosophy to his rehab smiling in agreement. After helping Al regain his ability to speak, write and walk, they have every reason to share Al’s confidence about achieving his goal.

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