Beyond All Expectations

On August 9, 1988, he had ridden his moped two miles from Blynman Bridge to our home in East Gloucester, Massachusetts. When I came home from work that day, I found Robert on the floor of the living room in a fetal position.

Immediately, I brought him to see the doctor on call at the Cape Ann Medical Center, where he was misdiagnosed as having an inner-ear infection, even though his right arm was paralyzed and he was dragging his right leg. A few hours later I called an ambulance, and he was admitted to Addison Gilbert Hospital. Bob was sent to Beverly Hospital for a CAT scan and diagnosed as having a stroke.

During his three weeks at Shaughnessy Rehab Hospital in Salem, I would visit after work from SeniorCare Inc. where I was a care manager/social worker. I would pick up a meal in the cafeteria and have supper with him outside on the deck. Bob was discharged with an AFO (ankle-foot orthotic) and walker. A nurse and physical therapist visited our home twice a week for two months. When he was strong enough to be able to leave the house, he continued rehab as an outpatient.

For many months Bob continued rehab twice a week. Finally, he was informed that his stroke had damaged his motor control and no amount of rehab would correct his drop foot. He was relentless in bringing back his right hand. First with putty, then he found a spring, which he squeezed constantly to regain strength in his hand.

Five more strokes followed. Most recently in October 2012. He was having breakfast, when all at once, he was unable to raise his right arm and his right side went numb. He was unable to walk. After another stay at Addison Gilbert Hospital to stabilize his condition, he was transferred to New England Rehab at the Hunt Hospital in Danvers. When he was requested to do 10 reps of an exercise at the rehab, he did 20 reps, sometimes 30. He was a star patient. His 87th birthday was celebrated at New England Rehab.

CT scans revealed evidence of brain damage from five strokes, yet Bob is an example: After suffering a stroke, there is hope. With hard work and determination life can improve. His doctors are in awe of Bob’s courage to remain independent.

Survivor Robert “Bob” McKinnon with his wife and caregiver, Virginia

Bob never ceases to amaze me: at 92 years old, he awoke early one morning recently, and with one hand on his walker, he set the table, made coffee, toast and hardboiled eggs in his electric egg cooker. Then he woke me. We begin every day with a big hug, as we as are so thankful to have another day to love each other. At age 88, I feel so blessed to be living independently in my own home with my husband.

We have services from a home-health aide who visits for his personal care. Rosalie is our angel. He also receives services from the VA as he is Navy veteran of WWII. He was stationed in the Asiatic-Pacific Theater, on ships bringing in troops and supplies, seeing death every day in many battles.

How could stroke happen to a healthy, strong body builder, who never smoked or drank and lived a healthy lifestyle? I don’t have an answer for that other than stroke shows no mercy.

Stroke support groups have been our lifeline. Only a survivor or caregiver can understand the life changes a stroke brings. We joined the Gloucester Stroke Support Group in 1988 at Addison Gilbert Hospital — the only evening support group on the North Shore. We learned so much about life after a stroke.

Bob and I also joined the Beverly Stroke Club on the first Thursday of each month. Speakers were at most meetings. We were also members of the Salem Stroke Club, which was the oldest and largest support group in the area. Every group was so different. Eventually, both of these groups disbanded for various reasons.

Photo from Bob’s bodybuilder days, taken in 1948, when he was a 24-year-old Navy vet

Now our Gloucester Stroke Club is the only stroke support group on the North Shore. Although attendance has been low, we continue to grow. Two new members attended recently. The group is very informal, but we maintain the format of beginning each meeting with each member telling their story and other members listening and offering support.

I feel our members have bonded in our experiences. I had a slight stroke in January 2010. It produced no lasting effects, though I was unable to drive for two years until my medication was adjusted. Bob is no longer able to attend the meetings. He does enjoy the delicious oatmeal cookies I bring home from the meeting.

My wish is to reach out to survivors and caregivers. My heart breaks when I see a formerly healthy, independent person now disabled and feeling ashamed to be seen in public. I have spoken to many survivors who resist my invitation to our stroke club.

The experience of joining a support group can be lifesaving. There they will find other survivors, who against all odds, keep improving every day. Attitude, determination and sharing your feelings are so important. Listening to each other’s stories and finding hope in how others have made significant improvements in their lives. My husband’s recovery at 92 has been beyond all expectations.

Editor’s Note: Find a support group in your area, or visit our online Support Network to connect with other stroke survivors and family caregivers.

This information is provided as a resource to our readers. The tips, products or resources listed or linked to have not been reviewed or endorsed by the American Stroke Association.

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Stroke Rehabilitation

Making the Best Decisions at Discharge After Stroke

The type of rehabilitation and support systems a survivor receives at discharge can strongly influence health outcomes and recovery. In this, the first part of a two-part series on stroke rehab, we offer guidance for the decision-making process required when it’s time to leave the hospital.

What to Expect from Outpatient Rehab

After stroke, about two-thirds of survivors receive some type of rehabilitation. Outpatient therapy may consist of Several types of therapy. Whether a patient is referred to inpatient or outpatient therapy depends on the level of medical care required.

What to Expect in Stroke Rehab

Following a stroke, about two-thirds of survivors receive some type rehabilitation. In this second of our two-part series, we want to alleviate some of the mystery, fear and anxiety around the inpatient rehab part of the stroke recovery journey.
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AHA-ASA Resources

The Support Network

When faced with challenges recovering from heart disease or stroke, it’s important to have emotional support. That is why we created a network to connect patients and loved ones with others during their journey.

Caregiver Guide to Stroke

The Caregiver Guide to Stroke is meant to help caregivers better navigate the recovery process and the financial and social implications of a stroke.

Stroke Support Group Finder

To find a group near you, simply enter your ZIP code and a mile radius. If your initial search does not pull up any groups, try

Tips for Daily Living Library

This volunteer-powered library gathers tips and ideas from stroke survivors, caregivers and healthcare professionals all over the country who’ve created or discovered adaptive and often innovative ways to get things done!

Stroke Family Warmline

The Warmline connects stroke survivors and their families with an ASA team member who can provide support, helpful information or just a listening ear.

Let's Talk About Stroke Patient Information Sheets

Let's Talk About Stroke is a series of downloadable patient information sheets, created by the American Stroke Association, that presents information in a question-and-answer format that's brief, easy to follow and easy to read.

Request Free Stroke Information Packets

Fill out this online form to request free information about a variety of post-stroke topics.
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Stroke & Parts of the Brain

When Stroke Affects the Occipital Lobe

Our occipital lobe, the smallest of the four lobes of the cerebral cortex, controls how we visually interpret our world.

When Stroke Affects the Cerebellum

The cerebellum contains 80 percent of our neurons. Its job seems to be to make things better. We talked with neuroscientist Jeremy Schmahmann about how stroke affects the “little brain.”

When Stroke Affects the Parietal Lobe

The parietal lobe helps us make sense of sensory information, like where our bodies and body parts are in space, our sense of touch, and the part of our vision that deals with the location of objects.

When Stroke Affects the Frontal Lobe

Of the four lobes that make up the cerebral cortex, the frontal lobe is the largest. It plays a huge role in many of the functions that make us human — memory, language, movement, judgment, abstract thinking.

When Stroke Affects the Temporal Lobe

The temporal lobe has several functions, mainly involved with memory, perception and language.

When Stroke Affects the Brain Stem

The brain stem serves as a bridge in the nervous system. It sits at the top of the spinal column in the center of the brain. When a stroke happens there, it can cause a few different deficits and, in the most severe cases, can lead to locked-in syndrome.

When Stroke Affects the Thalamus

The thalamus can be thought of as a "relay station," receiving signals from the brain’s outer regions (cerebral cortex), interpreting them, then sending them to other areas of the brain to complete their job.
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Support Showcase

Our new department highlighting the good work being done by stroke support groups from around the nation. If you are part of a successful support group we should consider featuring, let us know!