The Yale Department of Neurosurgery and the American Stroke Association co-hosted a panel entitled “A Panel of Hope: Stroke Survivors Share Their Stories of Recovery” on Thursday, May 21, 2020. The panel featured stories of survival, hope, and recovery from stroke survivors Ally Berlin, Meredith Gilmor, and Chelsea Keenan, as well expert commentary from Dr. Charles Matouk (Chief of Neurovascular Surgery, Yale) and Dr. Joseph Schindler (Director, Yale New Haven Comprehensive Stroke Center).
The panel coincided with Stroke Awareness Month, which seeks to bring awareness to the causes and aftermath of stroke.
Each stroke survivor began by describing the sudden onset of her respective stroke experience, and the frustration and physical rehabilitation that followed.
“I started to foam at the mouth when I was washing dishes. I realized I couldn’t speak when I spoke to Siri,” recalled Ally, a personal trainer and model.
To Ally, the worst part of suffering the stroke was her inability to do simple things: “I was reading on a third-grade level,” she said. “It’s very hard to stay positive.”
Meredith Gilmor’s experience was similarly sudden and physically challenging, having suffered a stroke while on an eight-mile run.
Faced with facial paralysis, speech challenges, and left-side neglect, she shared, “After a long recovery, I was able to run the NYC Marathon on the one-year anniversary of my stroke.”
When asked what helped with their recovery, each stroke survivor noted the importance of being kind to both mind and body, and of taking each day one step at a time.
Singer Chelsea Keenan spoke of her struggles with mental health during recovery. Having suffered multiple strokes at a young age – her first at age 18 – she felt frustration with being unable to join her peers in everyday activities and maintain stamina onstage.
In light of an uphill physical battle, “I don’t think music ever really left me,” she said. “Writing songs [in the hospital] was how I got my emotional stress out…Working around your inabilities will be worth it because people will know it’s from the heart.”
What made all the difference for each survivor was maintaining her own version of what Gilmor described as her ‘3 Ps:’ Patience, Positivity, and Progress. Suffering a stroke leaves physical and mental scars, and maintaining a positive mindset set each survivor on a pathway to success.
“Even if you’re only able to move your big toe after two weeks, that’s a win,” Gilmor noted.
In addition to learning about each survivor’s story, the panel focused on stroke cases in the age of COVID-19. In recent weeks, Yale New Haven Hospital has seen a decrease in stroke admissions, possibly due to patients’ fear of contracting COVID-19 in a hospital setting.
“An unintentional consequence of social distancing guidelines is that if you have a serious medical condition, you shouldn’t go to the hospital. I don’t think that’s how it was meant, but that’s how people have interpreted it,” said Dr. Matouk. He assured the panel’s viewers that hospitals have extensive safety procedures in place to accept non-COVID patients, and that choosing to wait out a potential stroke at home could be life-threatening.
Dr. Schindler echoed this sentiment: “There are time-sensitive treatments related to stroke…The acute rehab period is one of the most important aspects of recovery.”
In other words, if someone experiences any of the typical symptoms of stroke such as slurred speech, vision loss, or trouble walking, consider it a neurological emergency and seek medical attention.
The panel concluded with each stroke survivor offering their takeaways for other stroke patients. “Stroke recovery takes time,” said Gilmor. “Just be kind to yourself and your caregivers.”
Keenan spoke from her experience as a musician who continues to sing even after her strokes.
“Don’t be ashamed of who you are, and follow your dreams even if you’re a bit different,” she said. She described how she adjusts to her limited physical strength by recording at home and singing sitting down rather than standing.
“Don’t underestimate yourself,” finished Berlin, who talked about how easy it was to get discouraged in the initial phases of recovery. “Those little things you can’t do, they will get better.”
To date, the Live event has been watched a total of 8,000 times by audiences on the American Stroke Association and Yale Neurosurgery Facebook pages.