On July 26, 2006, Shari Bookstaff underwent surgery on an acoustic neuroma, a benign brain tumor. What was expected to be a fairly routine surgery, and five to ten days in the hospital, turned into a drawn-out ordeal that catapulted Shari into nine-months of hospitalization and rehab.
Shari’s story begins with that surgery in July of ’06, at the Univ. of California San Francisco (UCSF) Medical Center. She had been experiencing a variety of debilitating symptoms, and her doctors were confident that the acoustic neuroma surgery would restore Shari to a normal, healthy state. But at some point during the surgical procedure, she had a stroke in an artery located at the rear of her brain.
Shari was never told much about the stroke, itself. One of her doctors simply told her that she had “complications” following surgery, but another physician finally revealed that she had experienced a stroke in the left anterior, inferior cerebellar artery. At 42 years of age, Shari Bookstaff had become a stroke survivor.
Shari stayed in the UCSF Medical Center intensive care unit for three weeks, and then she was moved into a regular acute care room for three more weeks, until mid-September. At that point, she was transferred to a rehabilitation unit in a different hospital. In mid-October, Shari moved again, this time to a rehab center that specialized in brain injuries. She remained there for five and a half months re-learning the most basic of functions, and receiving physical, occupational, balance and speech therapies, once she was ready for them.
After she was discharged from in-patient rehabilitation, Shari continued to receive outpatient PT, OT and speech therapy, on and off, for more than two years. Now, she attends an Adaptive Physical Education class four days a week, working on special exercises designed to promote brain plasticity. These exercises are assigned by the class professor, whom Shari fondly refers to as her “trainer.” In conjunction with using a Wii Fit system, which she uses to improve her balance, the exercises have continued to improve Shari’s physical condition bit by bit.
Despite the fact that she is fairly mobile and active post-stroke, Shari continues to wrestle with many stroke-related problems, including slurred speech, balance issues, and impaired sensation in various parts of her body. The left side of Shari’s face doesn’t move, and the left side of her body is weaker and uncoordinated than the right, which can make it a challenge just getting through the day.
Shari has two children, a daughter who is 16 and a 12 year old son. Shari says they were her motivation for fighting so hard to reclaim her life. In turn, Shari’s devotion and struggles didn’t go unnoticed by her kids, particularly Shari’s daughter, who wrote in a school autobiography assignment, “Most moms say they would die for their kids. My mom loves me enough to live.” Shari says she’s indebted to her children for handling a multitude of household tasks when she finally returned home from the rehab hospital. Their willing assistance enabled her to concentrate on healing, and to save her energy for out-patient rehabilitation.
Since her stroke, Shari has been busy doing some very interesting things. A marine biologist by profession, she has been able to keep her same job as a full-time biology teacher at a local community college, but now she has a different focus. For instance, Shari arranged her schedule to teach mostly online classes and labs. She also started teaching an honors class on the human brain, using her own experiences to train the next generation of biologists and health care professionals. One example of her influence: her biology students work with other brain-injured students in an on-campus Adaptive Physical Education course, researching the effectiveness of the Wii Fit as a therapy tool.
In addition to all of the above, Shari has another major accomplishment, one that not many stroke survivors can claim: she wrote a book. Entitled, “When Life Throws You Lemons…Make Cranberry Juice!, Shari’s book chronicles her stroke and its aftermath. You can visit the website for her book at:
Shari considers her book to be her greatest post-stroke achievement, but she also writes a weekly blog, continuing where her book left off. You can follow her on-going saga at:
Last but not least, Shari recently took on another role, that of the “Newsfeed Review Administrator” for the StrokeNet e-newsletter. She now scours the internet every month for stories that may be of interest to Stroke Network members, and brings those articles to everyone’s attention.
As for “down time” and recreation, Shari says that she honestly enjoys watching “trashy” TV with her kids. She says she knows it’s not politically correct, but it brings up a lot of topics for discussion that would otherwise be taboo. She also takes trips with her children to observe wildlife, passing on to them her deep love of the natural world. Among other things, they’ve been whale watching and have taken many day-trips to local zoos and aquariums.
Shari’s been divorced for over four years. In fact, her divorce was only finalized about six months before her acoustic neuroma was diagnosed. She was just beginning to get her “single-mom” life on track when her world was turned upside down by the stroke. But, Shari doesn’t feel that her stroke has fundamentally changed who she is. She says she’s worked hard to maintain her “identity” in spite of all that’s happened. She must have succeeded, because Shari’s daughter once pointed out to her that although she was different on the outside, she was still the same on the inside.
Shari networks with other stroke survivors via the Stroke Network. She also interacts and networks with others in her Adaptive Physical Education class. Shari lives in San Franscisco, California, with her kids, and their two dogs. You can contact her via the Stroke Network; her user id is “sbookstaff”.