For Dale Nelson, family is everything. The native New Yorker is one of six children, who made his way to Texas, married the love of his life, Rhonda and together they had two daughters. “Papa Dale” now dotes on their four grandchildren. As a salesman with Little Debbie Bakery, he counts Zebra Cakes as a job perk.
Having a stroke -- or three – wasn’t part of his life’s plan.
One day in early May, Dale reached into his pocket for the car keys. He fumbled with them and struggled to remove them. Rhonda, becoming alarmed, asked “What’s the matter with you?” It’s the last thing he remembers. The world went dark, and Rhonda called 911.
The first stroke occurred on the brain’s left side. At the hospital, two more struck on the right. He went into atrial fibrillation, his heart pumping at only about 15% capacity. Complications, including a ruptured stomach and colon, set in. Surgeons performed a tracheostomy for airway support and placed a vein filter to prevent blood clots. On three separate occasions, Dale’s family was told his survival was uncertain.
After a month, he stabilized and was transferred to a skilled nursing facility to focus on resuming regular meals, avoiding a feeding tube. By July, Dale’s heart began pumping at about 50% capacity and he was admitted to Baylor Scott & White Institute for Rehabilitation – Fort Worth (BSWIR-Fort Worth) to begin the chapter in his recovery.
The strokes left him with limited function, cognitive impairments and extreme dizziness that made sitting and walking difficult. His main goals were to regain his independence and play with his grandchildren.
Dale worked with an occupational therapist on standing, transferring out of bed and improving hand function. His first milestone was sitting without feeling dizzy. His physical therapists coached Dale on standing, transferring in and out of a wheelchair and walking.
“I was very proud that I went from not being able to sit up to walking 74 feet with a rolling walker with minimal assistance,” he said.
Speech therapists worked with Dale on memory, word finding and communication skills. He was soon able to enjoy phone calls with his family, which provided further motivation.
In just three weeks, Dale had made remarkable progress. He was discharged in early August to a local transitional care facility, with plans to attend BSWIR-Fort Worth’s Day Neuro Program upon returning home. He is looking forward to regaining independence and getting back to being “Papa Dale” as soon as he can.