Recovering from a stroke takes a community

When the text message from her running accountability partner came in at 5 a.m., Dr. Funmilayo “Funmi” Aranmolate, an optometrist in the U.S. Air Force, laced up her running shoes for an outdoor run. But she says divine intervention stopped her from heading out the door, and instead she completed the workout at home. Unfortunately, following her workout, Aranmolate suffered a stroke. It’s taking self-determination and a community of people to help her recover.

“My arm went weak at the end of my workout,” she said. She sat on a bench to shake off the feeling. “When I stood up, I fell to the ground. The right side of my body was paralyzed.” She crawled her way to the front yard where she thought she was yelling for help — only to find out later that she was babbling. A neighbor, who didn’t know Aranmolate and assumed she had a mental health disease, took her inside. “When she looked at me, she knew to call 911.”

The 41-year-old arrived at Bayhealth Hospital, Kent Campus. “My words were clear to me, but I was talking gibberish to the medical staff,” said Aranmolate, who couldn’t understand why no one would listen to her. Staff performed a CT scan to assess or visualize the brain, and then administered tissue plasminogen activator (tPA) to help dissolve the clot and improve blood flow to the part of her brain that was being deprived.

Both Bayhealth Hospital, Kent Campus and Bayhealth Milford Memorial are designated as Primary Stroke Centers. The designation signifies that both Bayhealth hospitals have met and seek to maintain The Joint Commission’s high standards in providing stroke care.

Aranmolate spent three days in Critical Care at the Kent Campus. “After I was told that I received tPA, which helps shorten the course of stroke recovery, I thought I would be back to work in a month at most.” She didn’t understand the toll the stroke had taken on her body. In fact she had right-sided weakness and paralysis caused by an injury to the left side of her brain that controls her language and memory. Aranmolate was later medically retired from the Air Force.

The team of nurses in Critical Care worked with Aranmolate’s sisters to create goals like finding an inpatient rehabilitation facility, connecting her with a neurologist, and introducing her to a social worker to help her on her road to recovery.

As a single woman living on her own, Aranmolate relied on her mother to be her care partner. Aranmolate traveled to Towson, Maryland, where one of her sisters lived, for rehabilitation. When she was released after six months, she returned to Dover to start therapy at Bayhealth Outpatient Rehabilitation. She went through speech, occupational, and physical therapies.

Aranmolate used outpatient therapy to help her learn how to live on her own again. She needed strength to walk up the steps to her townhouse, to get to doctor appointments, to cook a meal, eat, and write with her right hand, and to walk. The former marathon runner was confined to a wheelchair for three months, and used it off and on for a year while she regained her strength. “The therapists tailored all of the therapy to meet my needs, and it helped me build up strength over time,” she said.

“When I first started therapy I was having a hard time stringing words together to make a sentence,” explained Aranmolate. In speech therapy, she worked on fluency and even did music therapy. “I chose the Michael Jackson song ‘Man in the Mirror’ to learn and sing. We worked on it every time and they gave me an app to use at home. It was fun.”

Aranmolate was also introduced to art therapy in Occupational Therapy. Occupational Therapy Assistant Kristen Ward, COTA/L, CLIPP, BS, says that art therapy builds strength and coordination in a hemiplegic arm. “Art therapy is rewarding for patients and can be a distraction from their disabilities as they are creating something beautiful,” said Ward. “Art therapy addresses the same skills that are addressed during traditional therapeutic exercise.”

When Aranmolate first put the paint brush to canvas, she doubted herself. But as time went on, she found art therapy to be relaxing and a huge confidence builder. In fact, outside of therapy she enjoys going to paint nights to tap into the creative side she didn’t realize she had on that first day of art therapy.

“Everything we did in therapy could translate into real life,” said Aranmolate. “PT, OT, and speech have all been a crucial part of my recovery. The therapy team helped me set goals and mark them off one by one.” This past summer she walked a 5K in Philadelphia with her two sisters — making significant strides toward her goal to run again.

“My stroke was life-changing, and it’s taken a community of people to get me where I am today,” said Aranmolate. Now two and a half years after her stroke, Aranmolate says she can see a glimpse of where she wants to be — running again and returning to the job she loves. “Even if I’m having a bad day, I try to work on something to help me get better.”

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