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Charting a Path to Peace and Recovery:
A Stroke Survivor’s Journey

Karen Krill on the KineAssist with Marianjoy Physical Therapist Donna Zielke

As a co-partner of a law firm and mother of two teenagers, Karen Krill was used to a busy life. However, it was during a moment of relaxation when she noticed something was wrong. At dinner with her husband in January, 2015, Karen suddenly felt foggy, dizzy, and fatigued, causing her to go to bed early. The next morning, things had not improved. “I felt tingly on my right side, my balance was off, and I just wasn’t moving or thinking the right way.” Because she had had a blood vessel tumor removed from her cerebellum in 2006, she decided to go to Central DuPage Hospital (CDH) for evaluation.

An MRI revealed she had a bleed in her brainstem, so she was admitted to the ICU for four days. The bleed and brainstem swelling were obscuring scans, and her physical symptoms were not worsening, so she was released with directions to stay at home to rest and recuperate, with plans for a follow-up scan after a couple of weeks to determine what was causing the bleed.

About 10 days later, still at home, Karen found herself with a more complete loss of motor skills and sensation on her right side, including her face. She also felt dizzy, numb, and nauseated, with vision and speech problems. She returned to the ICU, where they discovered a new, larger bleed in the same brainstem area. Because she had experienced a more serious hemorrhagic stroke, her neurosurgeon urged her to continue her treatment at Marianjoy upon release from ICU. Karen recalls: “I was told, ‘You’ve got to get over to Marianjoy. They work wonders. The sooner you can start all the therapies they offer there, the better your brain and overall recovery will be.’”

Without delay, Karen was transferred to Marianjoy. “Brain hemorrhages are a type of stroke, varying in cause, severity, and progression, which can make them challenging to assess,” says Dr. Krieger, Medical Director of the Marianjoy Stroke Program. “The comprehensive Stroke Program at Marianjoy is well-equipped to treat the full continuum of stroke rehabilitation needs.” The atmosphere was an immediate fit for her care. According to Karen, she describes: “Marianjoy becomes your home, like it or not—and I’ve loved it! The personal connection, demeanor, attitude, and supportive nature of the staff here are huge factors in how much people think they can recover. It inspired me to do my best while I was here. They work you very hard, with such caring encouragement, to get the results they are known for. I have been told I have made an excellent recovery so far, and I owe it all to Marianjoy.”

Over the next four months, Karen received physical, occupational, and speech-language therapy, as well as psychological support and therapeutic recreational activities both as an inpatient and outpatient at Marianjoy. “The therapists wanted to help me get back to what was important to me,” she notes. “The memory and reasoning training in therapy were especially helpful to me.” Getting back to work and to her recreational exercise routines were important goals for her, and her therapists helped to make that possible. Marianjoy Speech-Language Pathologist Michelle Armour recalls: “We worked on improving her speech production abilities and cognitive functioning. We targeted high-level memory, attention, visuospatial, and executive-function skills in tasks that would simulate her return to working, driving, and activities of daily living. In addition, she completed daily exercises to improve the range of movement and strength of the muscles of her face, mouth, and jaw. Through it all, she was very positive and hardworking.”

Another aspect Karen found useful in her therapy was the technology utilized, part of Marianjoy’s “high-touch, high-tech” approach. “I was really impressed with what they had—things I had never even heard of,” she says. “Karen was very proactive about her recovery,” says Donna Zielke, Karen’s physical therapist. “She was open and willing to try any piece of technology that we thought might be beneficial for her.” Karen reflects, “In particular, the LiteGait® and KineAssist® really helped me to be able to walk again. Without that technology, I don’t think my hip and leg would have come back so quickly. They were giving my brain the input it needed to be retrained.”

The approach worked so well that Karen is now able to walk without any assistance or device, and her speech has improved dramatically. “Jeremiah 29:11 reminds us that there is a plan, even if you can’t see it from a dark place,” says Karen. “As a result, my advice to find joy and take peace in this knowledge. Her belief in this wisdom is so strong, she had it engraved on a brick she sponsored in the new Marianjoy footpath outside the hospital. Now, Karen continues to work on her focus, equilibrium, and strength. She is back to work and back to her regular life, with one important change: “I’ve learned to step back and relax,” she says. “Sometimes, we miss the joy in life by rushing and busyness. I think God wanted me to slow down and enjoy life.”