In my own voice: Making steady progress after a stroke

Penelope Maynard was in a familiar place — on the back of a horse — last November when she suffered a hemorrhagic (bleeding) stroke that left her with left-side paralysis. After a hospital stay and initial rehabilitation, the Groton resident, who is in her mid-70s, began receiving therapy from a team at Emerson’s Center for Rehabilitative and Sports Therapies.

Nicole Finch, MS, OTR/L, occupational therapist, performed Mrs. Maynard’s initial assessment and was soon joined by Naseem Chatiwala, DPT, NCS, neuro specialist. They later suggested that Joy Walsh, MS, CCC-SLP, speech therapist, become involved. Thanks to this collaborative approach, Mrs. Maynard understood the stroke’s impact, has been able to set and reach goals, and remains optimistic. In the following text she describes how the multi-disciplinary approach from the team at Emerson has helped her overcome the limitations the stroke placed on her.

“My health was phenomenally good, so the doctors couldn’t figure out why I had the stroke. There’s no family history of stroke, and I don’t have high blood pressure. I’ve always exercised a great deal; I’m outdoors all day. I grew up in Kenya, where I rode a horse to school, and I worked as a garden designer for many years.

“It seems I had the stroke while riding through the woods. I fell off the horse and broke three ribs, but because of the left-side paralysis, I never felt any pain. I was terribly lucky. And I had no problem with my vision, which also was fortunate.

“When I got to Emerson for rehab, I met Nicole, who determined what I needed. Then Naseem began my physical therapy; she said we needed to build back the muscles in my left arm and left leg. Having a stroke is like being a child again. I’ve had to teach myself all over again how to walk — using my brain to get my legs to work.

“I was given a splint for my wrist and began regular electrical stimulation sessions for my arm and leg. Naseem also watches my balance. She keeps changing my exercises, adjusting my therapy to what I need and gives me exercises to do at home. When I met her, I was walking about 500 steps a day; three months later, I’m up to 3,000.

“At one point, Nicole and Naseem suggested I see Joy for speech therapy. It was a strain for me to speak, and my voice had no expression; it was monotone. Joy identified the problem; I needed to relax my neck and torso muscles so that my voice worked better. We read plays together, which was a wonderful exercise. I’m much more comfortable now.

“There was another problem they identified: left side neglect. Because my left side wasn’t working, I wasn’t looking in that direction. Nicole and Naseem continue to work on that problem, because they don’t want me to trip or fall. That’s one of the phenomenal things about the Emerson rehab staff: they work together to be sure you receive all the therapy you need. If you have a stroke, you need to pursue all the treatment that is offered.

“I believe I’ll get back to where I was, because I’m getting stronger all the time. There are moments when I feel a bit depressed, but I’m incredibly positive; I’ve always been like that. I’m lucky to have my husband, John, who is always encouraging me, and the Emerson therapists, who are so upbeat and always smiling.

“One day, I went to my therapy session with Naseem, and she had set up a bench that I could straddle. Then she said ‘Now I know you’re ready; I want you to start riding again.’ Because I’ve been riding all my life, Naseem felt it would be good therapy, as long as someone leads the horse. I was so excited I nearly fell off the chair.

“Soon after the stroke, someone asked me what I wanted to achieve. I said: I want to stand up at the table and then walk. I can do that, so now I have other aims — to be able to use my arm to get back to gardening and my greenhouse.”

 Penelope Maynard (left) is riding horses again thanks to help from Naseem Chatiwala, DPT, NCS, (center) a neuro specialist at Emerson's Center for Rehabilitative and Sports Therapies.

Penelope Maynard (left) is riding horses again thanks to help from Naseem Chatiwala, DPT, NCS, (center) a neuro specialist at Emerson's Center for Rehabilitative and Sports Therapies.