Imagine waking up unable to talk or walk. Carl Johnson, 57, doesn't have to imagine. It happened to him in November 2012.
His trouble began a day earlier on a jobsite. "I was up on a scaffold when suddenly I didn't feel good," says Johnson, an independent contractor with a masonry company. Co-workers helped him off the scaffold and asked if he wanted them to call his wife, Rosita.
Johnson figured nothing serious was wrong and opted to drive home. Rosita encouraged him to go to the hospital, but Johnson, concerned about getting to work the next day, just wanted to rest.
By morning, he was debilitated.
"I was paralyzed on my left side," Johnson says. After rushing to a Wilkes-Barre hospital, he was diagnosed with an ischemic stroke, in which an artery blockage deprives the brain of blood and oxygen. Doctors stabilized him, but Johnson’s brain had already been damaged. Care going forward would focus on rehabilitation to restore as much function as possible.
For rehab, Johnson turned to the Gunderson Center for Inpatient Rehabilitation–Hazleton. "When we first saw him, his left arm was completely flaccid, and his left leg had limited muscle tone or voluntary control," says physiatrist Ammar Abbasi, MD, who saw Johnson inside the center. "He couldn’t walk more than three feet even with support." Johnson also had trouble with memory, thinking and attention. "It was a major stroke," says Abbasi, who also practices at LVPG Physiatry–Health & Wellness Center.
In acute rehab, doctors and therapists worked to help Johnson improve his activities of daily living, such as bathing, dressing, grooming and staying safe. Physical therapy helped build balance, improve range of motion and strengthen muscles. Occupational therapy helped his body relearn how to perform daily essential activities and functions. Speech therapy worked on speech and ensured that Johnson could control muscles while eating.
"With therapy, weak areas of the brain start to strengthen, and the brain develops new pathways and connections," Abbasi says. "After about four weeks of acute rehab, Carl was actually walking and had some good recovery." Johnson went home under Rosita's devoted care and continued working with Abbasi.
"Coming home was frustrating for Carl because he really had to come to terms with what he still couldn’t do," Rosita says. At one point, the dead weight of his arm pulled the limb out of its socket. "But he's a fighter, and we're both determined people," Rosita says.
She credits Johnson's struggles with drawing them closer. "Eventually, something good comes out of things, and we have to see what that is," Rosita says. One struggle was controlling muscles that almost literally had a mind of their own. While damage from the stroke prevented some muscles from activating, it prevented others from relaxing. "If the brain doesn’t inhibit muscles, they start to contract by themselves," Abbasi says. Called spasticity, the condition causes fingers, wrists and elbows to contort, causing tightness that can impair range of motion.
Abbasi gave Johnson muscle relaxant medication along with injections of BOTOX®, a toxin that can temporarily paralyze selected troublesome muscles, making therapy and stretching easier. But Abbasi also felt Johnson could benefit from chiropractic care.
"I treated Carl with stretching, exercise and manipulation to break apart adhesions, stop contractures and improve range of motion," says chiropractor Daniel Gavio, DC, with LVPG Chiropractic Medicine–Health & Wellness Center. Both the Johnsons and Abbasi say Gavio has been instrumental in helping Carl restore function. "Not all chiropractors get involved with mobilization," Abbasi says. "Dan is really good at that."
To help further his recovery, Johnson began gardening at home. Then he moved to a farm on 100 acres in Palmerton, where today he walks two miles around the property daily and handles chores such as mowing the grass and feeding the chickens. "The manual labor is great therapy," he says. "My wife and I appreciate our life and blessings more because we see how life can change in the blink of an eye. I’m doing great."
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