As someone who loves cars and racing, Abel Narezo always liked to do things himself. But one day, everything changed for the Fort Worth native when he had trouble staying upright when he was out at lunch. Recognizing the severity of the situation, the restaurant immediately called an ambulance. Abel was swiftly transported to Baylor All Saints, where he was told he had suffered from a hemorrhagic stroke – a ruptured blood vessel in the brain – that required immediate surgery.
Undergoing a craniotomy, a surgical procedure in which a part of the skull is temporarily removed to expose the brain, surgeons worked to stop the bleeding in his brain while removing the blood that had built up. After surgery and now confined to the ICU, he faced the stark reality of immobility. Abel was unable to move his left arm or leg.
"I had to be intubated and remained intubated for a long time," Abel recalled. "I remember in the ICU, I was really scared because I couldn't move my left arm or leg and I had this tube down my throat."
The 43-year-old's hospital stay stretched over several months, marked by infections in his craniotomy wound, necessitating additional surgeries and the insertion of a drain tube. "I had to have a NG [nasogastric tube] because I had dysphagia and couldn't swallow," said Abel.
"They eventually put in a PEG [percutaneous endoscopic gastrostomy tube]." His condition remained stagnant, with no new functional gains on his left side.
Once stabilized, Abel was transferred to Baylor Scott & White Institute for Rehabilitation (BSWIR) – Fort Worth.
"I heard it was the best place for stroke recovery," recalled Abel. "The paramedic told me that ... I asked him where he would go if he had a stroke, and he told me [BSWIR-Fort Worth], so I said 'OK!'"
Upon admission, Able and his physician-led care team developed goals, which included regaining his ability to stand, improving his speech and recapturing his swallowing ability. Abel embraced his goals wholeheartedly as his physical, occupational and speech therapists put his recovery plan into action.
"My speech therapist really helped me," Abel exclaimed." I was able to upgrade my diet; my speech also improved...my therapist worked really hard with me on language and swallowing strategies."
Occupational and physical therapists worked to strengthen his balance, posture, core and overall stability.
"My occupational therapist and physical therapist really helped me progress with the standing," he said. "When I first started...I couldn't even sit without assistance, and they did so much work with my balance, posture, core strength, stability and everything else - I was able to stand with assistance when I left."
One of Abel's favorite activities was boxing. "I loved boxing. It really helped me move my left hand and helped me recognize my midline and build my core," he said. Related to boxing, a defining moment arrived when Abel accomplished the feat of pushing up independently.
"I was working with my occupational therapist and my recreational therapist doing boxing," he remembered. "They had my left arm placed out to the left of my body and I had to lean to that side and punch across my body, then push back up through the left arm...before, I would never have been able to push up. But they got that left arm working and I was able to push up through the left arm completely by myself. I felt a lot of hope in that moment that I could get my left arm back."
He soon progressed to the Day Neuro Program, where his strength and determination led him to reach one of his most cherished goals: walking without assistance.
"I learned I'm a lot stronger than I thought," Abel mused. "And I need to learn to let others help me. I was so independent that that was a really hard lesson learned."
Abel's family also played an indispensable role in his recovery, cheering him on. Their love and dedication were pivotal.
"They've done everything for me," Abel exclaimed. "They've supported me, they drive me, I live with them and they do my caregiving. They're amazing."
As Abel's time at BSWIR – Fort Worth came to a close, he eagerly anticipated the simple joy of "just to be able to walk around in my garage!"
For those in a similar situation, Abel imparts this invaluable advice: "Don't let it get to your head; stay positive. Do all the therapy you can. It can really make a difference!"