Sara's story

Photo of Sara Shissias at Kessler Institute for Rehabilitation.

Photo of Sara Shissias doing balancing exercises at Kessler Institute for Rehabilitation.Sara Shissias, a 38-year-old optometrist and new mom, enjoyed good health. She worked out almost every day, ate a clean diet and even grew her own food. One night, she woke up in the middle of the night with pressure over her right eye and chalked it up to a sinus cold or migraine.

The symptoms got worse. After a few hours, “I was non-stop throwing up, the whole world was spinning,” Sara said. “I couldn’t stand; I couldn’t walk.” Her husband took her to the emergency room right away—a decision that probably saved her life.

Sara described the feeling as being on an extraordinarily fast merry-go-round. Her symptoms continued to get worse at the hospital. “I remember telling my husband that I thought I was going to die,” she said. Tests showed both acute right cerebellar and medullary strokes that compromised her ability to walk and care for herself. She worried deeply that she’d wouldn’t be able to pick up her son or walk and hold him again.

This was not a situation Sara could have ever imagined she’d be in. She was used to being on the go, owned her own business with her husband, did yoga and worked out. But before she could return home to her husband and son, she would need intense rehabilitation to regain mobility and strength.

Once she was medically stable, Sara and her husband choose the Kessler Institute of Rehabilitation (KIR) - Marlton for the next phase in her recovery.

Her physician-led team of occupational and physical therapists focused on improving Sara’s balance, functional mobility and visual and vestibular (perception of where your body is in space) activities. The entire KIR - Marlton team was amazed by her dedication, which she contributed to her son. “I don’t want to be afraid of picking up my son ever again, or be[ing] able to walk and hold him– or miss any aspect of his life,” said Sara.

Her son also played an integral part in her physical therapy. When it was safe to do so, one of her activities was walking while holding him. “You practice with weights, you practice with other things,” she explained, “but to actually hold a movable object that is another human—you can’t imitate that with a weight—that was the most rewarding moment.”

By the time she left KIR - Marlton, Sara was able walk and complete everyday tasks independently. She continued outpatient therapy with Kessler and hoped to find a long term neuro recovery program so that she could continue reaching her full potential.

Throughout her recovery, Sara has tried to remain optimistic. Her advice for someone who finds themselves in a similar situation is to “find something that keeps you motivated, because it is incredibly hard to wake up every day and not wallow in the loss,” she said. “It is 100 percent okay to grieve—even if you gain everything back—the experience will change you.”