On the 21st day of February, 2009, Yvonne Honigsberg was in her apartment building’s gym, sweating through her exercise routine. She had just finished lifting some light weights, and was waiting for the treadmill to become available, when, without warning, forty one year old Yvonne became dizzy and couldn’t speak properly. Then she collapsed to the floor.
Yvonne was rushed to acute care hospital Weill-Cornell Medical Center in New York City, where it was found that she had a hemorrhagic stroke. For the next three weeks, she remained in intensive care, undergoing surgical and drainage procedures to reduce the blood that saturated the left front lobe of her brain. At the four week mark, Yvonne was transferred to Mount Sinai Hospital for a month of physical, occupational and speech therapy. This was followed by eight more months of out-patient rehab, plus a three month extension, until her insurance coverage ran its course.
Even though Yvonne has received conventional PT, OT and speech therapy, she’s also dabbled in a variety of non-traditional and complementary treatments, as well. Among other things, she’s had Botox® injections and acupuncture, has worked with specialized computer games, and has received an unorthodox therapy consisting of intravenous high-dose vitamins, supplements and herbs used with hyperbaric oxygen therapy.
Yvonne’s also tried the Bioness E-stim® device on her right hand, which she felt has improved her hand’s function somewhat (she’s also used a Bioness® unit on her right leg, but says it wasn’t as effective as the one used on her hand.) She’s started using another specialized device, called the Neuromove™. So far, Yvonne says that she hasn’t noticed any lasting improvement.
One year and nine months out from her stroke, Yvonne continues to struggle with a host of residuals: right-sided paralysis of her arm and hand, a right-sided foot drop and limp, impaired balance, and difficulty speaking and concentrating. Unfortunately, she also wrestles with depression and anxiety.
Yvonne said that during the first year after her stroke, she was very upbeat because she was sure that she would fully recover; even when faced with obvious challenges, she refused to take “no” for an answer. But, once she reached her first “stroke anniversary,” she began to see that her disabilities weren’t fading away, and that she hadn’t made nearly as much progress with her speech as she had expected. When faced with this stark realization, Yvonne fell into a deep depression.
Still, despite these many obstacles, she made a conscious decision to move forward. She found that she was able to manage her depression with a combination of antidepressants, psychotherapy, a depression support group and writing about her experiences in a blog (see below). Then, not content to sit still, she started her own “Meet Up” group for Younger Stroke Survivors, meetup.com, and began to promote “stroke awareness.”
She appeared on New York 1, a TV news channel in New York City, and got involved with “Young Professionals” fundraising events, for the American Heart / Stroke Association. Yvonne also took part in a six-week clinical trial that investigated a robotic leg device, and its potential for reducing a person’s a limp when walking. And, just recently, she began to volunteer her time for the Stroke Network’s e-newsletter, as “Member Celebrations Coordinator.”
Although she’s “on disability,” and is unable to work right now, Yvonne stays in close contact with her former employer and related industry contacts, in case she improves enough to resume her previous job. She was an acquisitions editor at a large university press, so she’s still able to communicate with authors via email. (Ironically, she used to specialize in books dealing with clinical medicine in Neurology.)
But, until the time comes when she can reenter the workforce, Yvonne fills her days with many interesting activities. In addition to managing the Younger Stroke Survivor Meet Up group, promoting stroke awareness and volunteering her time to “StrokeNet”, she also:
* blogs about her stroke and on-going recovery
* writes poetry and other creative prose
* goes to “indie” movies
* reads fiction, non-fiction and dramatic plays
* visits art galleries
Writing, in particular, has enabled Yvonne to find her voice and discover strengths that she never knew she had. You can go to her blog, http://yhparadise.wordpress.com/, to see how she’s been dealing with her post-stroke ups and downs:
Yvonne was physically active before her stroke and she remains physically active now, with on-going rehab for her arm, hand, and leg, exercising on a cross-trainer (despite a limp) and light weight training to keep up her strength. She also still receives speech and cognition therapies.
From a social standpoint, Yvonne makes it a priority to network weekly with other stroke survivors via stroke and aphasia support groups, where she’s made many close friends. She also belongs to a book club, which gives her additional opportunities to connect with others.
Yvonne says that she could list a lot of “negative” things that resulted because of her stroke, but she can count a lot of “positive” things, as well, the most notable being the opportunity to meet some truly inspirational people who manage to live their lives as fully as possible, in spite of their disabilities.
During her ongoing recovery, Yvonne has also made a pleasant discovery about her home town of New York. She says that even in the metropolis of NY City, she was surprised to see that most people are sensitive to the physical needs of disabled people. This has touched her deeply, as well as made her, in turn, become more sensitive to the needs of others.
Closer to home, Yvonne says her boyfriend, family and friends have really been there for her as she’s navigated her post-stroke world. She says that she never knew she had so many friends, particularly during that critical first year afterwards. She’s truly thankful for everyone’s outpouring of love and support.
Yvonne can be contacted via the Stroke Network. Her user id is: yhonigsberg