Stroke patients relearn the little things
St. Luke's project offers therapy for basic living
John Stucke
The Spokesman-Review
December 26, 2010

Greg Isensee has had some tough luck.

There was the time he was mistaken for a turkey and shot from 42 feet away. There still are enough steel pellets embedded in him to set off a metal detector.

Another time he survived an explosion in his mechanic’s shop that knocked him across the floor, broke his ribs and mangled his arm.

So it seems odd that what nearly killed him was a nonviolent event of his own body’s doing: a stroke.

He’s home now after a speedy recovery with the help of therapists and a new learning center within St. Luke’s Rehabilitation Institute.

Isensee has learned how to navigate the narrow grocery aisles of a Walgreens; open his wallet with one hand and use a banking card; and pull himself into the passenger side of an SUV. These are big tasks for a man who suffered left-side paralysis from a stroke last month.

These small victories all happened within the confines of St. Luke’s, where Spokane is compressed into 2,200 square feet to help patients learn and practice basic tasks, said Chris Clutter, the hospital’s therapy manager.

For patients with traumatic brain injuries, those coping with life after a stroke, or people injured in accidents – they can now practice how to shop, dine in a restaurant, board a bus, step down from a curb, get into a car, get to their airplane seat and perform other tasks that can be challenging for people who suddenly find themselves with a disability.

Clutter described it as giving patients a series of intensive trial runs before venturing into the hustle and bustle of real life with rude shoppers and impatient drivers.

It’s called the St. Luke’s Community project and it’s expected to bolster recovery outcomes for patients like Isensee.

Last month, while relaxing at his home in Brewster, Isensee attempted to get out of his recliner and go to the kitchen. He fell to the floor. Surprised, he gathered himself up and tried again.

His wife, Jody, rushed to his side and noticed the telltale sign: the left side of his face seemed to droop. She grabbed the phone and called 911.

Isensee, meanwhile, kept trying to walk, oblivious that something was wrong. He fell again.

And again.

And again.

His wife, recounting the episode with tears welling in her eyes and a grin acknowledging Isensee’s determination, finally pinned him to the floor and sat on him until paramedics arrived minutes later.

“He’s a real fighter,” she said.

Isensee was whisked away for specialized stroke care at Providence Sacred Heart Medical Center, where he stayed for a week. His physical therapist at St. Luke’s, Cara Cabrera, is impressed that Isensee beat the daunting odds: he had a 32 percent chance of surviving the first 72 hours.

The Isensees’ lives have changed forever, but 56-year-old Greg wants to plug back into society. He talks of relearning how to work on diesel engines and the difficulty of getting into and out of a truck cab.

“It’s real challenging getting in and out without landing on your butt out on the pavement,” he said.

He wants to drive his pickup camper and boat to rivers and lakes.

Some of these tasks may be outside the realm of his immediate therapy goals, but with the help of the new recovery center Isensee believes he is on the fast track.

“I’m just real thankful for what everyone has done for me.”


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