Bill Ritter loves playing “slots”. Aside from his wife and family, the only thing he loves more is the 2004 Thunderbird that he purchased in late 2005. Slots are a fun diversion and a good reason for Bill and his wife, Anita, to take occasional excursions from their home in Harker Heights, Texas, to casinos in Louisiana. But, in May, 2006, one of those trips turned into the “adventure” of Bill’s lifetime.
Sixty four-year-old Bill and Anita were on a 3-day “unwind and relax” trip at a casino in Shreveport, LA. Around 9 PM, on the last day of their trip, they decided to wrap things up. Bill left his wife for a scant dicw minutes to cash in his voucher. When he returned, Anita told Bill something looked “off” with him and that his eyes appeared to be unfocused. Much to Bill’s surprise, he couldn’t answer her. He didn’t collapse or lose consciousness, and he could still hear everything going on around him, but he just couldn’t respond.
Bill was helped into a reclining position, and, after a quick evaluation by the casino’s in-house paramedic, was rushed to a hospital at Christus-Shuhumpert Health System, in Shreveport. There, they determined that he had an ischemic stroke on the right side of his brain. Bill’s long ordeal had begun.
Bill was put into intensive care. When his wife finally saw him the next morning, his son, Jim, had also arrived. Bill couldn’t communicate with either of them. He was paralyzed, and couldn’t do anything without assistance. Daughter, Jill, soon joined her mother and brother to keep vigil over Bill, and to lend support to her family. One week later, Bill was finally able to speak again, and, soon after, was stable enough to be transported to Health South Rehabilitation Hospital, in Arlington, Texas, near his son’s home.
But, just hours after arriving, Bill experienced atrial fibrillation and was rushed to the intensive care unit at Arlington Memorial Hospital, where he spent the next two weeks. When he returned to Health South, they decided he needed a feeding tube, so he went back to Arlington Memorial for the procedure. However, as a doctor was explaining the feeding tube procedure, he noticed that Bill appeared to be having another cerebral “event.” In fact, Bill was having a cerebral hemorrhage right then and there.
Things went from bad to worse. Bill’s condition degraded such that when a team of doctors evaluated him and weighed his options, two of them advised Bill’s wife to just “let him go.” While the third doctor didn’t have an opinion one way or another, the fourth recommended putting Bill in a drug-induced coma to let his brain heal. Bill’s wife went with that option, and two weeks later Bill had emerged from his coma, stable enough to be transported back to Health South Rehab.
There, he began a grueling 6-to-8-hour per day regimen that included physical, occupational, speech and water therapies. Initially, Bill, the staunch army officer and retired public school administrator, was discouraged by his physical state. He couldn’t swallow or eat solid food, and he couldn’t walk, or sit up without support. More importantly, he could no longer do things that brought enjoyment and meaning to his life: play golf, do yard work, putter in his garden, swim in his own pool, or drive (especially, that new Thunderbird).
But, Bill is resilient, and believes that a person has to “play the cards that one’s dealt.” He worked hard, and once he learned how to use a wheelchair and take care of his basic personal hygiene, he was finally discharged and returned home to Harker Heights, four long months after he and his wife left for their 3-day casino trip.
Bill was now free to do out-patient therapy, but after a few months, was told that he had “plateaued” and would no longer benefit from therapeutic intervention. Undaunted, Bill’s wife took him to a fitness center where they hired a personal fitness trainer, who works with Bill to this day.
Bill did have one more setback about a year after he returned home. While on sleep medication, he dreamed he could walk, and fell getting of bed, breaking his tailbone, upper left arm, and pelvis. Bill found himself in the hospital once more, until he recovered sufficiently.
Despite the “plateau” prognosis, Bill’s made progress over the past few years. He walks 1-1/2 hours once or twice a week (with his cane or personal trainer.) He’s also utilized acupuncture, massage, botox, and computer games, and tried different medical devices such as an AutoAmbulator™, a WalkAide®, and a Saebo orthosis, as well as an ankle foot orthosis, and electrical stimulation therapy. Although he feels these have helped him have a better outcome than if he never used them, Bill still has impaired balance, and residual paralysis in his left arm and hand.
Since Bill can’t do many things he used to enjoy, he’s taken on some new interests: reading (mostly history), and playing computer games (“brain” games, jigsaw puzzles). But, with any luck he’ll soon be doing one thing he never thought he’d do again: drive. Bill started adaptive driver’s training this past July. Twice a week, he takes special driving lessons that will enable him to once again get behind the wheel by himself (a feat that he thinks will be his greatest post-stroke achievement).
Although it remains hard for Bill to be dependent upon his wife, and to be less active than he’d like, he knows that Anita has been crucial in elevating his life to a “new normal”, and making it possible for him to concentrate on his on-going recovery. So, despite any shortcomings, Bill is grateful for how far he has come, and for the unwavering support of his wife, family and friends. Bill lives in Harker Heights, TX, with Anita and their dog, Emma. You can contact him via the Stroke Network; his user id is: Wild Bill