Thursday 23 Oct 2014

Information and opinions presented here do not always represent the views of the American Heart Association.

STORIES FROM THE HEART: Strong resolve leads stroke survivor from being immobile to hiking 7 miles

Published: 9:00 am CDT, August 14, 2014

Amy Steinbrech spent the last night of 2012 with family. She enjoyed a glass of wine with dinner, then they all hung out and watched a movie.

Early on the first morning of 2013, the 40-year-old public relations specialist was in the bathroom and realized she couldn’t turn off the light because her mind didn’t register where on the wall the switch was. She returned to bed and thought she’d sleep off whatever was the cause of her confusion and disorientation. As she drifted in and out of consciousness, Amy realized she couldn’t move her right side.

When the early-riser wasn’t out of bed by 8 a.m., her sisters went to check on her.

“What they found when they opened the door terrified them,” she said.

Amy was lying helpless, unable to utter a single word. Her family called 9-1-1, and an ambulance rushed her to a hospital near her mother’s home in Lander, Wyoming. Doctors determined she had a stroke and needed to be treated at another hospital. She was flown to the University of Utah hospital, near her home in Salt Lake City.

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For several days, the only word Amy could say was “Nomi.” It was the pet name for her niece, Naomi.

Naomi and her brother Jack helped Amy regain her memory by gathering pictures of family members and attaching them to poster board. She could match names and faces on this “memory board.”

“My memory was totally wiped out,” she said. “I couldn’t even remember anything. That was obviously very scary.”

Amy also couldn’t walk. She could barely raise her right arm.

“Every day, I faced new challenges to regain my strength,” she said.

During four weeks in the rehabilitation unit, Amy was in therapy six days a week, seven hours a day. She received speech, occupational and physical therapy.

“It was intense,” Amy said. “I knew I had a long road ahead of me but I rose to the occasion and persevered.  I am proud of my accomplishments and my hard work continues to pay off.”

Others agreed. Doctors told her, “We’re hearing good things about you in therapy.”

Learning to walk again meant using a harness with tracks on the ceiling to guide her path.

“I could barely get out of the wheelchair (at first). They constantly had to work with me on moving my feet. Before I knew it, I was walking with a cane, and then I was walking on a gait belt.”

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Mom, Rita Steinbrech, surrounded by her daughters, (standing, from left) Vicky Steinbrech, Amy Steinbrech, Gina Colovich and Sonja Steinbrech

Amy believes her positive attitude helped her along her journey.

She also credits a strong support network that included her mom and three sisters, who she calls the “A Team.”

“It is so important to surround yourself with only positive people – no `Debbie Downers,’” Amy said

She also set goals. When doctors wrote “TBD (to be determined)” next to Amy’s release date on a whiteboard, she knew that wasn’t going to cut it.

“Although I was still very unsteady on my feet, I marched right up to that whiteboard and wrote my release date as Jan. 31.”

Amy was discharged Feb. 8.

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A year and a half later, doctors are not sure what caused Amy’s stroke; unfortunately, this is true for about 30 percent of all stroke cases. She had no stroke history in her family, although her dad had a brain aneurysm and multiple heart attacks. Amy currently takes a high-cholesterol medicine and is on a baby aspirin regimen.

“Having this stroke opened my eyes to how many good people are out there,” she said. “They reached out to help me, encourage me.”

Amy treasures each day and helps others by sharing her story. She has created a blog entitled “Persistence, Perseverance and the Power of a Positive Attitude” to chronicle her stroke story. And she has spoken several times at the American Heart Association’s Go Red For Women events.

“I know that I would not be here today without the incredible research advances funded by the American Heart and American Stroke Association,” she said.

Stroke is the fourth-leading killer of Americans, and a leading cause of adult disability. The American Stroke Association wants all Americans to know that stroke is beatable, treatable and largely preventable. It’s also important to know how to recognize a stroke F.A.S.T. – that is, if you detect face drooping, arm weakness or speech difficulty, it’s time to call 9-1-1. The sooner care is given, the better the chances for recovery; time lost is brain lost.

Amy realizes that despite this twist of fate, she has a lot of living left to do.

“I have to stand back and remember the accomplishments I’ve made,” she said. “From arriving in the hospital on a stretcher to now being able to go on a 7-mile hike with my friends is really pretty incredible.”

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Photos courtesy of Amy Steinbrech

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Do you know a “Story from the Heart” we should tell?

Send an email to stories@heart.org that’s as brief or as detailed as you’d like.

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Husband, wife exemplify the importance of knowing CPR

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26-year-old rebuilds life, golf game after stroke