GREEN BAY, Wis. (WFRV) – October 29 is World Stroke Day. According to the World Stroke Organization, about one in four people will have a stroke in their lifetime.
Luxemburg’s Michelle Voelker is one of those four and allowed Local 5 News a glimpse into her recovery process to share the message, there is life after a stroke.
Voelker’s speech can be difficult to understand, but her courage is unmistakable.
“Every day I start talking a lot better because Karen really does help,” Voelker said, her voice still whispery as she works to rebuild her muscle strength and breath control. Voelker is referring to her speech language pathologist at Aurora BayCare Medical Center, Karen Floriano-Floriano-Heimerl.
Voelker’s bravery in coming forward to share her story is motivated by something that has always been a part of her life, a desire to help others. Before her stroke, Voelker worked in a hospital as a peer mentor, helping liver transplant recipients, after having undergone a liver transplant herself.
“So, I was able to help them,” Voelker explained. “It made things better for them and for me.”
That’s where Voelker says she first learned how hard therapeutic work pays off. Voelker says the lesson became a valuable asset when she survived a stroke just over two years ago.
“I can’t say enough about how hard she has worked and continues to work, which is a huge part of her success,” said Floriano-Heimerl.
Floriano-Heimerl is part of Voelker’s stroke recovery team at Aurora BayCare Medical Center, which also includes physical and occupational therapy. Floriano-Heimerl works with Voelker on strengthening the muscles in her mouth, breathing exercises, and helping to literally re-train Voelker’s brain to make the connections necessary to form speech. They also work on sentence structure as well as reading and writing, all skills Voelker needs to re-learn after her stroke.
“Before I started going here, I could not say anything,” explained Voelker.
She’s come a long way.
“Now she’s to a point where we can sit and have a conversation,” Floriano-Heimerl described. “She can tell me jokes; she can talk about her day and she can tell us how she’s feeling and what she needs. Michelle can also write complete sentences, send emails, she reads online about strokes and looks up information to help with her recovery.”
In recognition of World Stroke Day, Floriano-Heimerl says the first message she’d like to get out is to reinforce the acronym BE FAST so people learn to recognize the signs of a stroke and act quickly.
- B – Balance – is the person having trouble walking or standing?
- E – Eyes – are there problems with vision?
- F – Face – do you notice any facial drooping?
- A – Arms or Legs, is one weaker than the other?
- S – Speech – Is their speech slurred?
- T – Time – to call 911 (can also mean Terrible headache)
But Floriano-Heimerl also says the day should also be a day of recognition, for stroke survivors to celebrate how far they’ve come.
“Their recovery is ongoing,” Heimerl explained. “So, every year on that day, just recognize what they’ve accomplished.”
As much as she’s accomplished in her recovery, Voelker says there’s still something she wants to do – to let other stroke survivors know recovery after a stroke is not only a possibility, it’s a reality.
“It’s going to be hard, but they can do it,” Voelker said, clearly and emphatically.