Strike Out Stroke
Carterville’s Rich Davis has been working on his fastball.
A natural left-hander, it’s taken a bit of work to be ready to throw out the ceremonial first pitch at SIH’s Strike Out Stroke game with the Southern Illinois Miners on May 31. He’s worked and worked at it and even if the pitch bounces on its way to the plate, Davis and those close to him will consider it a victory because not long ago, the respected real estate agent could not have done it. He couldn’t have walked to the mound and he definitely couldn’t have thrown a baseball.
Eighteen months ago, Davis had a massive stroke that affected the left side of his body. Without warning, blood flow to part of his brain was interrupted. He realized something was happening, but he was not sure exactly what.
“It was Nov. 8, 2017, the day after my 61st birthday,” he recalls. “I had just finished a staff meeting in our Carbondale office, said goodbye to everyone and walked out to my truck to return to Carterville. I will never be able to tell you what I was feeling, but I realized something was wrong.”
Pulling out of the Century 21 House of Realty office on West Main Street, Davis would normally turn left and head east on Route 13. Instead, he turned right, then right again, making his way to SIH Memorial Hospital of Carbondale.
“Between that parking lot and the hospital, I did $2,000 damage to the underside of my truck. I was going over curbs and through yards all along the way and I had no idea.”
In hindsight, Davis realizes a call to 911 would have been a better idea, but he did make it to the hospital. Struggling to get out of the truck and into the Emergency Department – the stroke was already affecting his left side – he was aided by a landscaping contractor and an EMT who happened to be leaving the facility.
The otherwise healthy Davis was suffering from a stroke and needed immediate attention. His wife Janie had raced to the Emergency Department to find Rich, slurring his speech and unable to move his left side.
Five minutes after arriving at the hospital, physician Paula Lindner, MD, and neurologist Esteban Golombievski, MD, confirmed Davis was having a stroke. A CT scan just four minutes later showed a blockage in the mid-cerebal artery.
“The neurologist was telling me that he needed to have tPA, (tissue plasminogen activator, a treatment which helps to dissolve clots and improves blood flow) but there were some risks, but he needed it,” Janie remembers.
The tPA worked, but because of the severity of the stroke – a vertebral artery dissection – the decision was made to transfer Rich to Barnes-Jewish Hospital in St. Louis for a thrombectomy – surgical removal of the remaining clot. Both the Carbondale and St. Louis facilities are members of the BJC Collaborative, a 41-hospital network working together to share best practices, resources and deliver cooperative patient care.
Vertebral artery dissection strokes are rare and often are the result of an injury sustained years or decades earlier. Deteriorating over time, eventually, a flap-like tear develops in an artery in the neck or back of the head, forming a clot, restricting blood flow.
“Rich’s images showed that he definitely had a vessel that ruptured in his carotid artery and that caused a big clot and the stroke,” Janie says. “At Barnes, we learned that everything they had told us in Carbondale was absolutely true. They evaluated him and moved him to the neuro unit.”
After about a week of treatment and recovery in St. Louis, SIH staff members arranged for Davis’ transfer to SIH Herrin Hospital for three weeks of inpatient rehabilitation. He still was what he calls “fuzzy,” and couldn’t move on his own, but he was headed home.
“That Darn Box”
“They put me into rehab immediately. They would take me through physical rehab, speech therapy and occupational rehab every day,” he recalls.
One of his very first challenges was to use his now-affected left hand to pick up one-inch square wooden blocks inside one box and put them into another box. The goal was to see how many blocks he could move in a minute.
“I could maybe do about three in a minute,” Davis says. “I was aware of my performance and it ticked me off. I wanted to get better; I didn’t want to stay like that. My attitude was that I was too young, I had a company to run and a family to take care of, but the reality was, at that point, I couldn’t walk and I was just exhausted.”
Davis continued to work daily with rehabilitation therapists. His work ethic and attitude earned their respect. Their compassion earned his. Janie says being back in Southern Illinois was key for Rich.
“I was home and he was in good hands,” she recalls. “They were compassionate, they were caring and transparent. They welcomed us as family.”
Rich went through a rigorous schedule of therapy. While others may have balked at the challenges of rehabilitation, he met them head-on.
“I loved everybody at Rehab. They were great. They were so good and helpful. They knew what you could do and what you couldn’t, and they celebrated each milestone,” he says. “I had to learn to do everything all over again.”
With encouragement and support from his family, colleagues and the SIH rehabilitation staff, he was able to learn to stand again, then walk, climb stairs and care for himself. He even had to learn to write again. He still keeps his first attempts at handwriting as a benchmark of how far he has come.
He also learned technique and tricks to overcome short-term memory loss and other common after-effects of stroke. He even got all of the blocks into the other box within a minute.
“My blessing is that I lost my left side, which is where all of my motor skills are, but not my communication skills. I could do that,” he remarks, sharing the analogy of a stroke as a file drawer with all of its contents dumped on the floor. He says recovery is like putting everything back in order again.
A month with SIH Outpatient Rehabilitation, followed by exercise at home to regain function, has given Davis much of his life back. He’s back to playing with grandchildren, leading real estate agents, closing deals and giving back to the community. In fact, in January he danced as one of the performers in the annual Hospice of Southern Illinois Red Carpet Gala. He says he’s “90%” back and is pleased that many people see the “same ol’ Rich.”
“Most of the time, I’m the only one who knows I’ve had a stroke; most people wouldn’t know,” he says with a grin.
Looking back, the Davises are grateful for the prompt and cooperative care Rich received at SIH Memorial Hospital of Carbondale and at Barnes-Jewish Hospital. The realtor couple is completely sold on SIH Rehabilitation.
“Often you think of modern medicine as something you swallow or you are injected with or surgery, but I can’t put enough value on the therapy because that’s truly what brought him back to normal,” Janie says. “They helped him get back on his feet and gave him the ability to use his legs and left arm again.”
That left arm. The one that will throw out the first pitch.