Anabelle's story

Anabelle Del Valle sitting in a wheelchair with a mask on.
As a retail clerk, Anabelle Del Valle is used to being on her feet, assisting customers and supporting the store’s daily operations. That daily routine was interrupted one day when the 61-year-old suddenly experienced slurred speech and numbness in her face.

“I noticed I was mumbling my words and drool was coming out of the left side of my mouth,” Anabelle recalled. Concerned, she immediately went home. Her daughter, realizing that something was wrong when Anabelle would not respond, rushed her to Hackensack University Medical Center.

Tests, including a CT scan and MRI, revealed that the mother of two had a middle cerebral artery stroke — an interruption in blood flow from the largest artery of the brain. She was left with weakness on the entire left side of her body, difficulty swallowing and paralysis that rendered her unable to move or walk on her own.

Anabelle remained in the hospital for nearly two weeks and, as her condition slowly improved, she and her family agreed the next step in her recovery was specialized stroke rehabilitation. She chose Kessler Institute for Rehabilitation – Saddle Brook. “I heard about it...that it was the number one rehab in the area,” she said.

At Kessler, Anabelle’s physician-led team of rehabilitation nurses, physical and occupational therapists, and other specialists, tailored a treatment plan to help her meet her main goal: “to go back to normal.” This included an intensive rehabilitation schedule with three hours of physical, occupational and speech therapies a day, five days a week.

Anabelle worked with her physical therapists to improve the strength and endurance in her left leg. It took a lot of her strength just to stand up — and stay up — but Anabelle knew she had reached a breakthrough when she was walking with only the aid of a cane.

Her occupational therapy team focused on restoring strength and mobility in her left arm and hand so that she could perform everyday tasks on her own. A key turning point for Anabelle was when - after just a week - she “noticed that I could move my arm so much more...the hand was opening and closing.”

“That’s when I knew I could do anything."

Working with her speech-language pathologist, she overcame her swallowing and communication deficits through a variety of treatments, exercises and computer-based technologies.

“Everyone (at Kessler) was so nice and approachable,” she recalled. “I consider my team my family.”

Anabelle acknowledges that her family was “extremely supportive” throughout her rehabilitation. In preparation for a safe return home, her family participated in Kessler’s family education and training. They were eager to understand the challenges and opportunities of home recovery, including fall prevention and management.

Anabelle was looking forward to returning to her “normal life” with her new-found perspective. Through her experience, she has learned “to be more positive” and provides this insight for others who may find themselves in similar challenges: “Eat healthy, do more exercises and be nice to everyone. You don’t know what’s going to happen.”