Michael's story

Michael standing in front on the window in his hospital room wearing a mask.

On a typical Saturday, Rabbi and Yeshiva University Professor Michael Taubes found himself engaged in Sabbath activities and delivering a virtual lecture to his evening students.

With only 15 minutes left in his class, the 62-year-old began experiencing tingling on the left side of his body. Initially, he dismissed it, attributing it to his "unusual" sitting position. However, after concluding the session, he discovered that he couldn't stand or move his left arm or leg and promptly called his wife. Recognizing the symptoms of a stroke, she immediately dialed 911.

Emergency services swiftly transported Michael to Hackensack University Medical Center, where diagnostic tests, including an MRI and CT scan, confirmed that he had suffered a stroke due to the occlusion of the right vertebral artery—a blockage of a blood vessel. Over the subsequent six days, medical professionals closely monitored his heart using a Transesophageal Echocardiogram (TEE) and a loop recorder.

After stabilizing, Michael faced numerous challenges. The paralysis of the left side of his body left the father of five unable to stand or walk independently. However, he expressed gratitude that his communication, swallowing and cognitive abilities remained unaffected.

Following recommendations from family and friends and guided by the institution's "nationwide reputation for excellence," he and his family opted for Kessler Institute for Rehabilitation in Saddle Brook, New Jersey, for specialized stroke rehabilitation. He remarked, "We never really considered any other place."

Under the care of a physician-led stroke team, comprising rehabilitation nurses, physical and occupational therapists and other specialists, treatment was tailored to facilitate his recovery. Michael’s goals were clear: “to get back to normal as quickly as I could…to walk properly and regain the use of my left arm so that I’d be able to return to work and to my roles as a spouse, father and grandfather.”

Understanding his needs, his physical therapists focused on improving his strength, balance and mobility through various gait training exercises. He benefitted from walking on different surfaces for small distances and climbing stairs. Literally step-by-step, he progressed from walking with the aid of a walker to walking with a cane and finally walking without assistance.

“Each stage in the process of being able to walk again brought me tremendous joy and a great sense of accomplishment,” he said.

Similarly, his occupational therapists focused on improving his left arm strength and function to be able to perform daily activities such as dressing, bathing and tying his shoes. A breakthrough came when Michael was “able to put on my prayer garments by myself and extend my arm completely to tie my shoes and button my shirt.”

He attributed his success to his rehabilitation care team. “Step by step and movement by movement, they guided me through my recovery with an exercise regimen that encouraged me to do things with the affected arm and leg which I did not think I’d be able to do.”

Admittedly, he got frustrated and disappointed when he was unable to complete certain exercises, but his therapists “assured me that ultimately I would be able to do them, and they were right.”

After his two-week stay, he was able to move his left arm and leg, walk independently and perform all daily activities on his own. Upon discharge from Kessler, he was looking forward to returning to “as many of my regular personal, professional and communal activities as possible.” His wife, a personal trainer, promised to help him with his in-home exercises.

He sums up his Kessler experience as “truly fantastic…the facility’s wonderful reputation is certainly well deserved. The doctors, nurses and assistants on the floor were likewise very professional and efficient, and treated me with care, respect and dignity.” Michael looked forward to more treatment in a Kessler outpatient center.

Today, Michael urges others undergoing stroke rehabilitation to maintain their determination. “Set realistic goals, work hard and don’t give up hope.” He also encourages family members to be involved and advocate for their loved ones.