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Strokes affect 795K annually, including many in DeKalb County

Howard "Jay" Hesenflow, 65, walks May 16 with assistance from his physical therapist Ashley Nagy in the halls of Pine Acres Rehabilitation & Living Center in DeKalb. Hesenflow is relearning how to walk, talk and write after suffering a stroke three months ago.
Howard "Jay" Hesenflow, 65, walks May 16 with assistance from his physical therapist Ashley Nagy in the halls of Pine Acres Rehabilitation & Living Center in DeKalb. Hesenflow is relearning how to walk, talk and write after suffering a stroke three months ago.

DeKALB – Howard "Jay" Hesenflow recently sat with his speech therapist while recuperating from his February stroke and sounded out a word he misses most: communication.

Hesenflow, 65, practices speaking words almost daily with Rachael Cully, a speech therapist from Kish Health Systems, to be able to express himself again. Cully said Hesenflow, a resident at Pine Acres Rehabilitation Center, 1212 S. Second St., DeKalb, is an inspiration.

"He wasn't speaking at all when I first met him," Cully said. "I asked him what's most important in his recovery. He said talking."

Hesenflow is one of about 795,000 people who suffer strokes in the United States each year, according to data from the American Stroke Association, and strokes are the leading cause of serious long-term disability, according to a Kish Health System stroke quiz.

The same quiz states about 143,000 people die from strokes every year, the third leading cause of death in the country. Cerebrovascular diseases such as stroke accounted for 34 deaths in DeKalb County in 2010 compared to 29 deaths in 2009 and 45 deaths in 2008, according to the Illinois Department of Public Health.

May is National Stroke Awareness Month. According to the Mayo Clinic, a stroke occurs when the blood supply to part of the brain is interrupted or severely reduced, depriving brain tissue of oxygen and food. Within minutes, brain cells begin to die.

Stroke symptoms include sudden confusion, trouble speaking or understanding others, temporary paralysis or weakness, vision problems or intolerance to light, sudden trouble walking, dizziness and unexplained severe headache.

Those experiencing signs of a stroke should immediately call 911.

Hesenflow's stroke, technically called right-sided hemiplegia, occurred in the left side of his brain, affecting the right side of his body, said his physical therapist Ashley Nagy. She works with Hesenflow about six days a week. They work on his gripping skills and walking skills.

Hesenflow uses a walker or a wheelchair to get around. Part of his left foot was amputated because of peripheral vascular disease, which makes learning to walk again even harder.

The hope is to get him walking with the help of a cane. When a patient reaches their plateau in recuperation and doesn't continue to improve, therapy stops, Nagy said.

"The stroke-affected brain signals sent to his body," she said. "We're trying to get motor skill control for functioning back."

Hesenflow can look to DeKalb resident Celinda Chasteen for more inspiration. Chasteen is a member of a swim class geared toward stroke sufferers at Kishwaukee Family YMCA, 2500 W. Bethany Road in DeKalb.

Kishwaukee Family YMCA offers three classes tailored to stroke sufferers. "Water Walking" has eight members, "MS Recoup Class" has 22 members, and the free "Strength and Balance" class has about 30 participants, said Heather Eade, marketing director of Kishwaukee Family YMCA.

After her stroke in 2005, Chasteen was in a coma for three weeks and was hospitalized for six months. She had two brain surgeries, required a wheelchair and ate through a feeding tube.

Now, the retired kindergarten teacher can swim an entire lap at the YMCA pool.

"I've gone from a walker to a cane to walking again," Chasteen said. "We have such a support group here. We have each other. We're all experiencing a lot of the same things. The support of everybody is just wonderful."

Hesenflow has a lot of support, too, and he likes to remind them of his sense of humor during therapy sessions.

"I told you I'm not going to class," he joked to Cully.

That was before he used a hemiwalker to make his way down a long hallway at Pine Acres, one step at a time.

Preventing stroke 

The National Stroke Association offers the following tips for preventing strokes: 

• monitor blood pressure 

• identify abnormal heartbeat 

• stop smoking 

• control alcohol use 

• monitor cholesterol levels 

• control diabetes 

• diet and exercise 

• treat circulation problems

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