As they struggle through their recovery, there are very few stroke survivors who don’t have chance to work with specialized health care professionals such as occupational therapists, speech therapists, balance therapists and, of course, physical therapists. These very special health care providers come to our aid when we need it most, after a stroke has knocked us down and robbed us of normal functioning. Many of us, literally, cannot move forward in our recovery without them.
But what happens when a member of this critical medical team has their own stroke? Angela Berg Marshall is a Physical Therapist who experienced the unthinkable at a very unthinkable age (24 years old), but who persevered and recovered her life, as well as her professional status as a therapist.
Angela’s story begins when she was a child. As Angela was growing up, she was totally unaware that she had a ticking time bomb in the left side of her brain: a massive AVM (arteriovenous malformation / huge tangle of blood vessels), had formed there when she was still in her mother’s womb. On February 15, 2001, that tangle of blood vessels ruptured and Angela experienced a hemorrhagic stroke, which left her with partial paralysis and impaired functioning on the right side of her body, as well as compromised balance.
At the time of her event, Angela had been a physical therapist for only a handful of years. She was a wide-eyed, eager 24-year-old who was dedicated to helping others; she says that she took particular pride in helping stroke survivors to reach their recovery goals. Ironically, she now had to lean on the shoulders of other dedicated therapy professionals to achieve her own stroke recovery milestones.
Immediately after her stroke, Angela was admitted to Genesis Medical Center in Davenport, Iowa, and spent a total of eight weeks there. This included time in the intensive care unit, as well as time spent on physical, occupational and speech therapies. She had to relearn to do the most ordinary things, such as dressing and feeding herself, and other activities of daily living that one takes for granted. She also had to relearn to walk properly with the assistance of a brace for her right ankle and foot.
Once she was discharged from the hospital, Angela continued her recovery as an outpatient for an additional two months of speech therapy, plus another two years of physical and occupational therapy, until she relocated from Iowa to Indiana. During that time, and for two more years beyond that, Angela was on hiatus from her PT career. She used this opportunity to not only continue her post-stroke recovery, but to reassess what she wanted to do next with her life. Ultimately, she decided that she still had a lot to offer people as a Physical Therapist, so she set her mind to it, worked long and hard, and finally re-passed her PT licensure exam in 2005.
Because of her massive stroke, Angela now functions as a “disabled therapist”, which means that she has to utilize her entire body to accomplish the same tasks that an “able-bodied” Physical Therapist can easily do. Angela continues to wear the brace for support and stability of her right ankle/foot and she has no functional use of her right hand.
At the time of her stroke, Angela says that using her left side to do everything was not only a physical but a psychological challenge, as well. As a highly-trained Physical Therapist, she was used to helping others overcome their own post-stroke limitations, but now she could see first hand just how defeating it could be trying to do things with (essentially) one hand tied behind your back. This has provided Angela with an unexpected benefit, by helping her to better see things from her patients’ perspective. Now sixteen years out from her stroke, some lingering memory deficits and limited right arm function are more likely to challenge her psychologically.
Other than walking her dog every day, Angela says she doesn’t do any special exercises or activities. And, even though she did at one time, she no longer has a chance to network regularly with other stroke survivors (although, during her time at the Genesis Medical outpatient facility in Iowa, she organized a stroke resource center with a Social Worker there).
Angela doesn’t feel that her stroke has changed her very much; she says she continues to be a positive and outgoing person. However, she also feels that some her pre-stroke “quirks” are much more heightened now. Angela says that she is more impulsive during conversations, which can lead others to feel she isn't fully "listening" or that she is speaking (or acting) without thinking.
According to Angela, re-passing the Physical Therapist licensure exam has been her greatest achievement since her stroke. She says that the majority of her patients are touched by her story, and as a result, are more open to working with her since she’s been on both sides of the therapy world. With this in mind, she feels that her stroke has been a blessing in disguise.
And, although Angela is a bit far along in her post-stroke journey and recovery, she now has someone to share her victories with: about two and a half years ago, Angela finally found love and got married. She wants to remind other stroke survivors that there is no "cure" for post-stroke residuals, and that stroke recovery actually takes a life time. But, she also says that no matter how extensive or how mild the stroke, there’s still something you can always be positive about: you!!
Anyone who wishes to contact Angela Berg Marshall can do so via the Stroke Network. Her user ID is: angb.