It was during the early morning hours on a Saturday in July that Alan Schoenwetter’s wife awoke and noticed that her husband’s face was droopy and puffy. She thought he was having an allergic reaction, but when Alan reached for a glass of water and was unable to grasp it, knocking the glass to the floor, they both realized that this was something much more serious.
After arriving at Columbia St. Mary’s Hospital Ozaukee in Mequon, the emergency room physicians almost immediately diagnosed Alan’s condition as a stroke. A series of diagnostic tests revealed that the carotid artery on the right side of Alan’s neck was 100 percent blocked, making surgery to remove the blockage too risky. After further testing, it was discovered that, amazingly, Alan’s left carotid artery was supplying enough blood to the brain for both arteries.
But the impact of the stroke left the 56-year-old unable to move the entire left side of his body and unable to swallow. The next few months would require courage and resilience to gain back what he had lost.
Three days later, Alan was transported to Sacred Heart Rehabilitation Institute at Columbia St. Mary’s Hospital Milwaukee to begin a rigorous rehabilitation program. He spent the next couple weeks in inpatient treatment, receiving occupational, speech and physical therapy. “My team of caregivers at Sacred Heart made me set personal goals,” said Alan. “Going to the bathroom by myself was my first goal. My second goal was to be able to swallow again and enjoy eating solid foods. My third goal was to be able to walk again.”
Sheer determination and courage propelled Alan out of his wheelchair and into the process of learning once more how to walk and accomplish simple daily tasks. Alan learned to face each day knowing there would be many challenges. He painfully completed daily rehabilitation tasks that taught him how to place one foot in front of the other, something most of us do without thinking. Balancing was a major issue for Alan in the beginning, but he was soon able to walk down a hallway and even climb a few steps. And, after four weeks, Alan was able to enjoy solid foods again.
At the end of his inpatient treatment, Alan was able to read and write again without too much difficulty, and had accomplished each of his initial goals. “I feel that the hospital staff truly gave me my life back,” said Alan. “With their help, I’ve been given back the abilities that we normally take for granted.”
It was Alan’s dedication to getting better and improving his health that earned him the American Heart Association’s (AHA) Lifestyle Change Award. Each year the AHA recognizes individuals for their efforts to incorporate healthier habits into their lives. Alan was selected as the winner out of hundreds of nominations within the Milwaukee metropolitan area. His stepdaughter submitted an essay about his rehabilitation journey to recovery and the lifestyle changes he incorporated to become healthier. Those changes included more exercise, healthy eating and quitting smoking after 40 years. He also lost over 20 pounds and his blood sugar is now under control.
Alan continues with occupational therapy because he has three more goals in mind: to be able to type again (he used to type 70 words per minute); to drive again; and, a personal goal of being able to open a can of soda with his left hand.
Reaching treatment goals, however, does not mean the end of recovery for Alan. It just means that he and his family are ready to continue recovery on their own. Through it all, Alan remains an inspiration to his family and to anyone struggling with recovering from a stroke.