Maria Perez, a 58-year-old surgical tech assistant from Texas, can't help but marvel at her journey. Originally from Mexico, Maria moved to the United States in 1987 after marrying her husband, Guillermo. Their love story is one for the ages, with 36 years of marriage, two children and two beloved grandchildren, Olivia and Aiden.
"It was love at first sight," Maria exclaimed. "Right when we met, I knew he was my man. It seems like just yesterday we met. He has been so wonderful and super for me."
Known for her hard work, Maria continued to overlook symptoms of extreme fatigue and leg weakness, thinking it was just a byproduct of her rigorous hospital job. However, on the second day at work, dizziness, nausea and numbness overwhelmed her. She was taken to the ER within her hospital.
A series of medical evaluations confirmed Maria had suffered a hemorrhagic stroke.
"The MRI confirmed the brain was bleeding," she explained. "I don't remember anything until I woke up that Monday and saw my daughter and husband next to me holding my hand. My daughter had to explain to me that I was in the hospital and what was going on."
Recovering from a stroke may be one of the greatest challenges a person will ever face. This stroke left her with several deficits.
"I was not able to move my left leg, I couldn't walk, my left arm was so weak I couldn't hold any silverware, my left side of my face was numb and I had trouble eating and drinking because my face was numb," she recollected. "My memory and cognition were affected and my processing speed was slower. I had a breathing tube for about a week, loss of strength, endurance and stamina and there were big changes to my balance. I had some nausea, vertigo and dizziness for about a month."
Once medically stable, her doctors recommended an intensive inpatient rehabilitation program to help her regain her mobility and independence. Due to her surgeon's advice, she chose Baylor Scott & White Institute for Rehabilitation (BSWIR) – Fort Worth's Day Neuro Program to begin her rehabilitation journey.
Upon arrival at BSWIR – Fort Worth Day Neuro, the physician-led rehabilitation team worked with Maria to develop a treatment plan. She wanted to walk again, improve her memory, and regain the strength in her left arm and hand so she could return to work.
Maria's goals required physical, occupational and speech therapy. Physical therapy activities aimed to strengthen her body and increase her endurance and activity tolerance. Occupational therapy focused on refining her fine motor skills and completing household and work tasks. Speech therapy helped Maria improve her memory and cognition.
As she progressed, her physical therapist worked to strengthen her leg, trying different devices that worked best for her. Her occupational therapist worked to incorporate her left arm into her daily activities. She mentioned that her therapist "sometimes made me put my right arm behind my back while we did things to force me to use my left hand. At first, I didn't always understand it, but it really helped and she did great with getting my arm and hand back."
Her speech therapist worked to improve her memory and cognition. They taught her the WRAP (Write it down, Repeat, Associate, Picture it) technique for memory, which has really helped her. "I took that home and practiced it over and over," she mentioned.
Throughout her recovery, Maria shared that the therapists at BSWIR – Fort Worth buoyed her spirits. "Every single person in here knows what they're doing, and they really motivate you even if you're down," she said. "Whenever they talk to you, they encourage you and help you believe you can do it and meet your goals. Every single day, I look at myself, and I know that without them, I wouldn't be where I am right now."
The turning point in her recovery journey was epic: the day Maria swapped her wheelchair for a walker. "That moment … it felt like 'oh wow, this is real. This is me getting better!'" she expressed.
Family played a pivotal role in her recovery. Maria counted on their constant encouragement and love: "They've given me the support, they were there for me when I needed it and they always showered me with love and encouragement even when I was feeling so down and discouraged. This program includes the whole family in the process and helps everyone navigate this process."
Maria admits that her healing journey at BSWIR – Fort Worth transformed her. "The way that I came here versus the way that I'm leaving… everyone can see 100% of the difference," she remarked.
Her advice to others? Prioritize personal health and well-being. For those who find themselves on a similar path, she assures, "With all the support from this program and from your family, you can survive this and get through this. They have all the tools in here; you just need to ask and use what they give you."