Unique Stroke Recovery Program Helps Old Bridge Woman Get Back on Her Feet, Step by Step

September 9, 2021

Fran Hudak from Old Bridge, New Jersey, was out shopping with her husband, Mike, on Memorial Day weekend in 2019 when she started to feel unwell. At first, the 66-year-old blamed it on the sleeping medication she’d recently started taking, but she soon suspected something else was at fault.

Mike suggested a visit to the hospital. “After 48 years together, you just know when something’s not right,” he says.

Mike took Fran to the emergency room at the JFK University Medical Center. There it was determined that she was experiencing a series of transient ischemic attacks (TIA), which are temporary blockages of blood flow to the brain. Thankfully, she was still in the emergency room later that night when she experienced a full stroke. Fran spent a few days in the hospital’s stroke unit before being transferred to JFK Johnson Rehabilitation Institute for inpatient treatment.

Her stroke, which was on the left inner part of her brain, affected the right side of her body. She required a wheelchair at first but moved to a walker as she began to regain her strength.

Fran’s rehabilitation didn’t end when she went home. She continued as an outpatient as part of the nationally-recognized Stroke Recovery Program at JFK Johnson. The program offers personalized physical therapy, occupational therapy, speech and language pathology, rehabilitation psychology and audiology services, among other rehabilitation specialists.

A Team Approach

The Stroke Recovery Program provides a seamless transition of care from the hospital to outpatient rehab and helps patients get the support they need as they progress in their recovery. “We designed our program where early on patients get more support compared to traditional follow-up, and that support continues as their needs change as time passes,” says Talya Fleming, M.D., medical director of the Stroke Recovery Program.

Together, Fran and Dr. Fleming pick a short-term goal to work toward; when that goal has been reached, they move on to the next one. Part of that process is to educate patients that there’s a next step in their recovery.

With the help of her multidisciplinary team, Fran has improved her mobility and coordination. She no longer needs a walker and instead uses a cane as needed.

Over a year ago, Fran started seeing Craig Van Dien, M.D., sports medicine and physical medicine and rehabilitation physician at JFK Johnson, because of shoulder pain. “As patients move through the Stroke Recovery Program, we want to optimize their recovery, so sometimes we have to focus on the pain that develops as a consequence of stroke,” says Dr. Van Dien, who successfully treated Fran’s shoulder pain with an ultrasound-guided injection of steroids.

Road to Recovery

Recovering from a stroke can be a lengthy and challenging process. “I can’t do a lot of things that I used to do, and I find that very frustrating,” says Fran. “But we’re very satisfied with JFK Johnson and the rehab procedures they have in place that are helping me.”

Adds Dr. Fleming: “Everyone’s stroke is different, and everyone’s recovery after stroke is different. That’s why it’s really important to have a treatment team that can grow with you and adjust the goals based on what you need at that particular time.”

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