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Wayne Edsall Stroke Survivor
Wayne Edsall Stroke Survivor


EARLY IN THE MORNING of March 18, 2001, in Bozeman, Montana, 75-year-old Wayne Edsall opened his eyes, looked out the bedroom window, and decided it was a good day to fly. He arranged for his friend Bud to meet him at the local airfield where Wayne kept his 1932 Fleet open cockpit biplane, the last of its type still flying in the world. The two didn’t say much to each other as Bud hand-propped the engine and, after it roared to life, it was too noisy for them to talk anyway. Wayne saluted Bud from inside the cockpit and taxied towards the
runway. Although Wayne had 50 years experience building and flying temperamental antique planes, Bud wasn’t sure he’d done the right thing by helping Wayne take off that morning. Almost exactly a year to the day earlier, Wayne opened his eyes in his hospital bed, where he was recovering from heart bypass surgery. It was a good morning because he knew he was only days away from heading home with his wife, Marcia. But when he tried to pour himself a glass of water, he watched in confusion as he instead emptied the entire pitcher over the bedside telephone.
That’s how his wife, daughter Sharon, and son Steve found him when they opened the door to his room. After the medical staff rushed inside, the family was informed
Wayne had most likely suffered a stroke—a not unheard-of
complication of bypass surgery. By the time a CAT scan (a type of X-ray that allows doctors
to see inside the brain) confirmed the diagnosis, the family’s shock had set in. Wayne’s wife called their other daughter Susan in Vermont. “Mom told me, ‘We’ve had a little snafu . . . your dad’s had a smallish stroke,’” remembers Susan. “She tried to assure me there was no need to come out to Montana, that there were ‘already enough cooks in the
kitchen.’” Nonetheless, Susan arrived at the hospital the next day. “When I saw Dad, I couldn’t believe my eyes. He was talking gibberish, gray from head to foot . . . I thought, this person in front of me simply isn’t my father anymore.” “We were rookies when it came to stroke, like most people,” says Susan. “We were all trying to cope in our own way, but I was the one who for some reason latched onto the rage and fear I saw in Dad’s eyes.” Susan immediately took action. “I decided I was going to raise hell and put a brick under it, if that’s what it took to get him back to us again.”

Once in the rehabilitation unit, it was determined that Wayne was extremely weak on his right side and had trouble with his vision. But more importantly, no one could understand Wayne when he spoke. He was also unable to read or even recognize the alphabet. Due to insurance restrictions, Wayne was sent back home less than two weeks after arriving at the rehabilitation unit. The only continuing rehabilitation plan was three hours a week of at-home speech therapy for a few months. “We simply knew that wouldn’t cut it,” recalls Susan. “My sister and I had witnessed this wonderful speech therapist at the hospital who’d helped Dad using these printed workbooks. Dad’s needs were so basic that we decided we could supplement the in-home therapy ourselves.” But when Susan approached the therapist, she was shocked to find herself put off. “The woman went straight to my mother. According to her, we weren’t remotely ‘qualified’ to help our dad with his speech recovery, and she refused to even disclose the publisher of the materials she used to help Dad.” “Simply put, I felt this person was telling us to cope, not hope.” Susan remained determined. “I just asked myself how I learned to read and write as a kid. I went to the local bookstore and bought all the children’s reading materials I could find. ” “One of the most important things for a family to do in participating in a stroke patient’s recovery is to push the therapists
to give you the tools to help when the patient comes
home,” says Dr. Richard Zorowitz, associate professor of physical
medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, and the
National Stroke Association chair of the Rehabilitation and
Recovery Advisory Board. “You simply can’t take no for an
Susan and her sister followed their gut instinct. “We stumbled
through our improvised program, one day and one inch
at a time.”
Wayne recalls his initial reaction to his daughters’ efforts.
“When I got home, I was an emotional mess. The first week
was pretty bitter—I felt like any active guy, going 100 miles
an hour, only to find myself squashed like a bug on a windshield.”
Depression, often severe, is common for stroke survivors.
“Stroke patients need a lot of motivation and support for their
recovery,” says Zorowitz. “Families must meet the patient
halfway, with a fine balance of motivation, patience, and support.”
Susan discovered a profound motivation for her father in
his love of flying. “I told Dad, who was understandably confused
and depressed, to give me one year. I said if he gave me
one year, I promised he’d be flying again.” “In the end, I made
up my mind I was going to
do what the girls said, figuring
anything I gained
was better than what I
had,” Wayne recalls.
Susan put together
eight, 30-minute exercis-every two weeks, one traveling from Vermont and the
other sister from North Carolina. “Dad didn’t think he was
making any progress at first, but I kept a log of our work and
his progress, day by day,” says Susan. “By the time we ultimately
received the materials the speech therapist had
withheld from us, Dad looked through them and
announced, ‘Hey, we’re way past this—get rid of them.’”
“Stroke patients need a goal that is personally meaningful
to them,” Zorowitz says. “Otherwise it’s a common response to
simply give up.”
Even when a patient’s recovery has reached a plateau,
Zorowitz strongly encourages practicing skills that were lost or
changed after the stroke. “It’s a ‘use it or lose it’ philosophy,” says
Zorowitz. “Recovery from stroke is a lifelong journey.”
Wayne adds that the patient’s attitude is essential as well. “I
learned to never give up, to swallow my pride enough to let people
help me, and to accept that if I only got 10 percent of myself
back, that was going to be way better than none.”
In Wayne’s case, his recovery soared far beyond his wildest
expectations. After taking off in his biplane a year after his
stroke, he practiced every maneuver he could think of until he
crushed any lingering doubt of his capabilities.
Then he surprised his wife by buzzing and circling their house while she waved excitedly from the front porch. “My dad still flies today,” says Susan. “His joy is inextinguishable, and he’ll never lose his gratitude for getting his life and family back.” “We’re not the Waltons,” Susan adds. “We have the same problems as everyone else. But because of this experience, our hearts have changed. We’ve fallen in love with our family all over again, because we see each other in a way we never could have before this challenge.”


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