Blog

Billy Matthews

Dear Tom,

Thank you so much for your reply. We would very much like to visit you, and when we have a trip to the UK planned, we will let you know.

I hope the attached document will help you. It is a very brief account of the past nine months, as well as a story of love and dedication that we have for each other and our determination that Billy will make a full recovery.
Billy’s stroke was two weeks before we were to have been married.

Also attached is a photo if you would like to use it. If you ever need additional articles or research/statistics about strokes, please let me know. We plan to be very active in this area and have already undertaken a lot of research. I am a published author and have written speeches for some
well-known people.

We wish you good luck with the endeavor and promise to follow your progress.

Paula Holmes & Billy Matthews

Unless you’ve been close to someone who has had a stroke, you aren’t likely to know what a stroke is about. And unless you have had a stroke yourself, you can’t know what a stroke really is. After our first-hand experience with a debilitating stroke, we found that there was a deficiency with understanding the impact of strokes by doctors, nurses, therapists, caregivers, and patients themselves, and we were given conflicting information and advice. There just was no good overview– specialists who might have known their own field well enough, but who didn’t know strokes, couldn’t answer questions about them, and couldn’t “see the forest for the trees.” Traditional therapy just did not seem to give answers to many of the puzzles of a stroke that we encountered.

In our search for a good overall approach to recuperation/rehabilitation from a stroke, we discovered the UK group Different Strokes (www.differentstrokes.co.uk). We began reading chronicles of stroke survivors posted on the site, and that is where we found Tom Balchin’s story. His approach to recovery made more sense than anything we had been told or had read. It was this approach that inspired us to take a wholistic view of stroke recovery, and to put it into practice. In following Tom’s progress through his organization, ARNI, we are, nine months post-stroke, still convinced that this is the most efficient and positive path to recovery. The following is a brief chronicle of Billy Matthews’ stroke and our approach, based on the brief but inspiring story written by Tom Balchin and his work with ARNI.

Billy had a massive left-brain ischemic stroke on April 30, 2005, at the age of 62. He awoke at 7:30 am, really didn’t feel well, but had some coffee and went back to bed. He fell asleep and awoke twice more– the third time we knew that he was having a stroke. Unable to stand properly, he was bouncing off the wall, his speech was slurred, and the right side of his face was beginning to droop. And so began the long journey down a road we never imagined we would take. We now realize this was a life-changing event, and one that would require more patience and hard work than either of us had ever faced.

We managed to get Billy dressed and to the car for the ride to the emergency room. He was somewhat stabilized in the emergency room as paralysis was spreading. The last movement that Billy was able to make was to squeeze Paula’s hand. By the time he was taken to the intensive care unit, right-side paralysis was complete and he couldn’t speak. After several days, Billy was taken by ambulance to a rehabilitation hospital where, during the next three weeks, he learned to swallow, speak, sit, transfer from a wheelchair, stand, walk with a quad cane, go up and down steps, fall safely and then get up on his own. And then at the end of May, one month after his stroke, Billy came home.

And our work together began. Outpatient therapy at a rehab hospital was supplemented by an intensive passive exercise program at home. The dining room was turned into a gym– stairstepper, recumbent bike, treadmill, weight bench, balance board, stability ball, soccer ball, tennis ball, squeezie ball, various types of hand grips, cones, weights, therabands, rubber bands, stretch cables, pulleys and ropes– you get the idea. As Billy slowly began to work on his own, each exercise slowly transitioned from passive and gentle to active and aggressive. Even today, nine months later, there are still some movements that require both of us to accomplish. But nine months! Miraculous!

Billy’s complete recovery is our goal. And it takes both of us to get where we want this journey to go. When the weather was warm, we would go for a walk almost daily along the river, at first with a gait belt and quad cane, and only for a few feet. By the time the weather turned cold, the gait belt was gone and Billy could walk more than a mile with a single-point cane. Today, he walks around the house without a cane, and we are working to perfect his gait technique.

The right arm and hand are slower to recover, but they are recovering. He has complete movement but lacks some range of motion and needs more strength. We know that with patience and hard work, the arm and hand will return. Billy’s speech is fine until he gets tired at night. Then some of his words “get wadded up” and we know it’s time to call it a day.

We both believe in a wholistic approach to stroke recovery. Lots of what are now called “brain foods”, vitamins and fish oil supplements, massage, relaxation, tai chi, and of course, hours of exercise and strength training. We also break the routine by taking long rides in the car and stopping at interesting places to eat or have a coffee. We know it’s working. Billy’s progress is remarkable by any standard. In December he was retested by one of Indiana’s “senior driving specialists” and got a new driver’s license. He was fortunate in that his vision and cognitive abilities were not affected by the stroke. And we are fortunate in that both of us have a tenacious personality type. We have spent a lot of time and energy researching strokes, therapy techniques, non-traditional approaches to recovery, and synthesizing the information to come up with our own personal program. We will continue to work and play together, to love each other, and to have a good life together. To all who say the most important keys to success are persistence and a good attitude, we add our voices. And remember, if you lose your sense of humor, you are, indeed, lost.

Share it on