It was the Sunday after Thanksgiving. Michael Levine sat down in front of his computer and began experiencing numbness in his right arm. Alarmed, he called 911.
The 57-year-old financial advisor was swiftly transported to Hackensack University Medical Center, where a battery of tests, including a CT scan and MRI, confirmed that Michael had suffered a stroke. He recalled, “I was able to talk initially but later on I couldn’t talk.” To stabilize him, doctors placed two stents in his carotid artery to improve the blood flow to his brain.
“As a result of my injury, I was in the hospital for six days and I couldn’t speak and I was not able to move my right hand and arm. Fortunately, I was able to walk and use my left hand and arm. It was difficult to eat for the first two days, but then it gradually got better,” he said.
Michael chose to continue his recovery at Kessler Institute for Rehabilitation – Saddle Brook due to its reputation. “Kessler is regarded as the top rehabilitation facility in our area and the Hackensack nurses and doctors told me that it was important to start rehabbing my arm and working on my speech and motor skills. They recommended I start as soon as possible.”
Upon admission, his primary objectives were to regain his ability to speak and restore movement in his right hand and arm. His physician-led stroke team of rehabilitation nurses, physical and occupational therapists, and other specialists developed a treatment plan to help him reach those goals.
His physical therapists focused on improving his strength, balance and mobility through various training exercises such as dynamic balance exercises, treadmill training and walking on different surfaces. Step by step, Michael progressed to the point of walking independently.
Similarly, in occupational therapy, he focused on regaining strength in his right hand and arm. His therapists incorporated functional election stimulation (FES), applying small electrical impulses to activate the muscles and nerves. He also participated in modified constraint-induced movement therapy (mCIMT) to rebuild connections between his brain and his muscles by restricting the use of his left hand to promote the function of his affected hand. Michael knew he had progressed when he was able to ride the recumbent bike with his right hand and arm.
Michael was surprised by how fast he advanced. “After four days, I could move my right arm a little, finally. I have gotten stronger every day,” he shared. “When I arrived, I was thinking that my arm would take a long time to show improvement, but I saw progress fast.”
Speech therapy played a major role in his recovery. “The first day I was in Kessler, I spoke my first words after having my stroke,” he said. He enjoyed having fun by practicing his verbal communication with Kessler’s Canine Companion dog, Governor.
A turning point came when the father of two “could speak to my nurses in the morning…That’s when I realized my language was coming back. That was my first time being able to initiate verbal communication outside of speech therapy sessions,” he said. “It is amazing to me how when I arrived I could not speak at all and now after two weeks I am speaking in full sentences.”
Michael’s wife was by his side throughout his recovery. She participated in Kessler’s family education training with his therapists to ensure a safe transition home and plans to continue to help him with his language and mobility. His twins also visited him often in the hospital.
After a few weeks at Kessler, Michael was happy with his progress. “The overall experience is that I have made a lot of progress in the three therapies and I see improvement every day,” he said. “My speech and language are improving, my walking and balance is back to normal, my upper arm is doing fine and I am seeing progress in my lower arm.”
He credits his progress to his care team. “My therapists have been awesome. I like all of them,” he shared.
Upon discharge, Michael was looking forward to returning home to his own dog. He planned to continue his recovery as a Kessler outpatient three days a week.
Throughout his recovery journey, Michael learned “that I am more patient and goal-oriented than I thought. I learned that it can always be worse…As difficult as this situation is, I am lucky and optimistic.”
For anyone going through similar challenges, he emphasizes the importance of patience and determination. “It’s a marathon, not a sprint. You should set short-term goals and you should expect that it’s not going to be a straight-line recovery.”