It was just a normal day in the spring of 1990 when Victoria VanPatten first felt the numbness.
She was at a local South Bend, Indiana mall, helping her mother carry some bags to the car when it started – first in her left hand, then it to spread to the back of her neck and down through her shoulders. She made it to the car and put the bags down, but the numbness persisted and was now making its way down her left leg. On her mother’s insistence, they went straight to the hospital.
“I walked into the hospital,” Victoria says, “and that was the last time I ever walked independently.”
At the hospital, a CT-Scan would reveal a cerebral hemorrhage located at the base of her brain, near the heart-lung center. Victoria and her mother’s quick action saved the then 40-year-old from any cognitive damage, but the left side of her body was rendered paralyzed. After only a few months of rehab at Saint Joseph Regional Medical Center in South Bend, the therapist deemed Victoria as healthy as she’d ever get and discharged her.
Victoria was devastated. She had almost no control over her left arm and hand; she needed assistance to stand; she had a large, cumbersome brace on her left leg; and was dependent on a quad cane to walk short distances, otherwise she was confined to a wheelchair. Despite the grim prognosis, neither she nor her mother were ready to give up.
Over the next year or so, the two of them embarked on a “crusade,” as Victoria put it, seeking out second and third and fourth opinions. They travelled to Indianapolis, Indiana and Harmarville, Pennsylvania. Then finally, while at a clinic in South Bend, one of the occupational therapists mentioned how she had just read an article about the work of biofeedback therapist Jeannette Tries at a hospital in Milwaukee called Sacred Heart. Victoria’s mother called her and the next thing Victoria knew they were up in Milwaukee meeting with Jeanette, physical therapist Monica Diamond, and occupational therapist Patty Bogart.
For the next year or so, Victoria would make that 374 mile round-trip trek about once a month. She’d endure a week of intense therapy at Sacred Heart, go home for three weeks with a list of exercises to do and then return to Milwaukee to be reevaluated.
“It was the most wonderful dynamic. They believed in me and my ability to get better,” says Victoria. “They were able to accommodate what I wanted to accomplish. It was just constant updating and looking for the next piece to put back into my body.”
Over the subsequent seven years, the trips became more and more infrequent, maybe every other month, then every six months, then once a year. When Victoria came back for her most recent check-up on April 29, 2012, it had been almost 13 years since her last visit. “Monica couldn’t believe how well I was doing,” says Victoria.
While she still doesn’t have use of her left hand, her elbow and shoulder function has greatly improved and she is able to walk with only a small, inconspicuous brace on her foot – she even recently passed a grueling four-day Architectural Licensing Exam with special help from Monica, Patty, Jeanette and occupational therapists Laura Gaudynski and Amy Rieck. In fact, Victoria, now 63, says most of the time people don’t even realize she has a disability.
“I owe it all to the wonderful people at Sacred Heart. If it hadn’t been for them, my quality of life would be markedly less than what I have now,” says Victoria. “They’re a blessing.”