Sharing Stories of Hope
Jennifer Benthaus and Lisa Stuckel are placing a face on stroke awareness at NCH by telling their stories of perseverance and triumph to fellow stroke survivors who are just starting out on their journeys to recovery in the hospital's neurology unit.
The two stroke survivors belong to a unique and special volunteer program at NCH that began in 2012. The stroke survivor volunteers, under the mentorship of the nurses and stroke program, listen to the stories of patients and their families, provide a listening ear and provide encouragement and moral support.
Jennifer had always suffered from migraine headaches, so she was not especially alarmed when another crippling headache arrived one day in 2009 while she was at work.
"It was the worst headache I ever had," the Palatine resident says. "I had migraines since I was a teenager, but this was so much worse."
After visiting her physician, Jennifer quickly learned that she had a ruptured aneurysm that bled into the brain, causing a stroke in the prime of her life.
"I didn't think a 38-year-old could get a stroke," she says. "I was off to work like any other day and I had no idea that I was having a stroke."
Jennifer lost her peripheral vision and had paralysis in her upper left arm. She also had slowed speech and short-term memory loss. After several visits to
area hospitals following her stroke, Jennifer came to NCH to continue on her long journey of recovery that continues today.
Jennifer regularly visits the NCH Outpatient Center in Rolling Meadows for speech, occupational and physical therapy exercises. She also participates in Brain Waves, a stroke support group that meets monthly and includes a meet-and-greet with fellow stroke survivors and guest speakers.
Dr. Sailaja Maramreddy, a neurologist on staff at NCH, treated Jennifer after her stroke and has seen a remarkable recovery.
"Jennifer was initially not able to see, walk or use her left side of her body because of stroke," Dr. Maramreddy says. "With her determination, family support and excellent physical, occupational, speech therapy and regular follow-ups with physicians, she is now walking independently and is actively volunteering to help other stroke patients."
While she is not in therapy sessions, Jennifer gives back to the NCH community. She volunteers at the hospital's neurology unit where she talks with other stroke survivors in their hospital rooms.
"I always tell them that it gets better," Jennifer says. "It is a long road to recovery and it might be scary at first, but things do get better."
Jennifer also helps stock linens, pillow cases, and gloves in storage carts outside of patient rooms, and looks forward to performing the tasks during her hospital visits two days each week.
"Volunteering is great because it gives me something to do," Jennifer says. "You feel responsible for getting things done. I just started this program and I felt the need."
Lisa also is active in the stroke support program. Twenty years ago, Lisa suffered two strokes during brain surgery at a hospital out of state.
"I was blinded and couldn't walk or talk," Lisa recalls. "I had this strength from within that I had to beat this. The positive attitude makes a huge difference in recovery. I will visit patients in their rooms and tell them 'If I can make it, so can you.'"
Lisa is proud to tell others that she ran the Chicago Marathon after her stroke and that having the right attitude helped in reinventing herself.
Roughly 80 percent of strokes are preventable with lifestyle changes, according to statistics. Dr. Maramreddy says there are several signs and symptoms of stroke, including:
Numbness, weakness of arm and leg, and facial droop, especially on one side of body
Double vision or loss of vision
Trouble speaking, including trouble putting out words or understanding simple statements
Difficulty walking and imbalance
Severe headaches, that are different from past headaches
Dizziness and abrupt nausea or vomiting
If you notice any stroke symptoms, call 911 immediately. Treatment using the clot bluster aTPA can be given if patients arrive within three hours of the onset of stroke, Dr. Maramreddy says.