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Getting Past the Roadblocks after a Stroke

Since her stroke, Rebecca Campbell’s words tend to get stuck between her brain and her lips.

No doubt she’s improved a lot since that fateful day in November 2014. She transitioned from getting around in a wheelchair to walking with a leg brace and a cane. Her right arm is paralyzed, but she’s retraining her brain so her non-dominant left side functions at a higher level. Her hand-eye coordination is improving.

But the words all too often hit a roadblock.

“I used to talk fast. Now I have to speak slowly,” she said. “I know what I want to say, but I can’t say it. It’s really hard.”

Attending Full Life Care’s Snohomish County Adult Day Health program helps in many ways, she said. Staff, nurses and occupational therapist help her find ways around the many roadblocks—and not just the blocks that trip up her speech.

“Slow. It. Down,” she said, carefully enunciating each word. “That’s my new motto. That’s what Full Life Care helps me with.”

Strokes and the Damage Done

Strokes are the leading cause of disability in the United States, according to the American Stroke Association. A stroke happens when a blood vessel that flows to the brain is blocked or bursts and part of the brain doesn’t get the blood and oxygen it needs. As a result, brain cells die, causing physical, speech and cognitive deficiencies.

Before her stroke at the age of 47, Rebecca said she had a good life. She was raising her then-9-year-old son. She worked at a hardware store and was about to start in a management training program. 

One morning, she didn’t make it outside to catch her ride to work, an unusual occurrence. The driver found Rebecca unconscious in her apartment.

“The hospital said if it had been another 15 minutes, she would not have made it at all,” said her mother, Shirley Campbell.

When Rebecca woke up, her right side was paralyzed. She couldn’t walk. Her son had to move in with his dad. Rebecca’s parents moved back to Washington from Florida to be her advocates.

In her previous life, Rebecca sang at the church where her father, Tom, was a pastor. She even majored in music when she attended college.

“She has a beautiful singing voice,” Shirley said. “She was a good pianist. She was very accomplished. She and her dad used to sing harmony at church. It was beautiful.”

Even now, when she sings, the words flow freely. It’s not unusual. Doctors have known for decades that people who can’t speak after a speech-centered brain injury can still sing because singing comes from the other side of the brain, the creative side.

Rebecca still sings at church and sometimes at adult day health when her friend and fellow participant Pat is on piano. But Rebecca still feels the loss of her own ability. The fingers on her right hand curl inward, virtually immovable.

 “I have a keyboard, but I haven’t tried it yet,” she said. “I can’t play now. It makes me mad that I can’t do it. It’s not fair. I worked. I had a son. I had a nice life. Now …. It hurts me. I know there’s a reason I went through it. I have to look at the positive side. I’m trying.”

Keep on Keeping On

Rebecca continues to rebuild her life. She lives in an adult family home in Marysville. She sees her son as often as she can.

When you ask Rebecca about her son, now 14, her face lights up.

“Oh, he’s so handsome!” she said. “He’s very tall. He plays basketball. He’s very good. I’m so proud of him.”

 “It was hard on him,” Shirley said. “He didn’t know what was going on. The school got counselors for him. He lives with his dad, and has a very supportive basketball coach.”

Rebecca has attended Full Life Care’s adult day health program since 2016.

“She loves it,” Shirley said. “She goes around and chats with everybody. She tries to be more independent. She’s writing better and speaking better. Full Life helps her to learn and use those skills.”

Rebecca has made new friends. Occupational therapy helps her build strength and retrain her brain to function post-stroke. It’s a daily struggle, she said, but one that is worth the effort.

“I keep on keeping on,” she said.

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