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45-year-old stroke survivor an 'amazing person' through recovery

Dave Bernero stroke survivor

The symptoms came on so slowly, it took Dave Bernero more than a day to realize he was having a stroke.

It started as pressure behind his right eye, then a headache. He couldn’t get undressed for bed that night. And finally, the next morning, he couldn’t move the left side of his body.

It was Oct. 8 of last year, and an ambulance took Dave from McPherson, Kansas, where his family lives, to Ascension Via Christi St. Francis in Wichita, where an MRI revealed blockage in an artery to his brain.

“I thought, ‘I’m 44. I shouldn’t be having a stroke,’” Dave recalls.

The team at the Via Christi Stroke Center got Dave medically stabilized, and he stayed in the Neurocritical Intensive Care Unit for five days.

Then came the hard part: Re-teach his brain how to move his body. For that, he turned to the team at Ascension Via Christi Rehabilitation Hospital.

“The day he got here, he couldn’t even move a single finger on his left side,” says Dave’s wife, Lori.

Hard work

Dave set out with many goals. He wanted to get back to running marathons. He needed to regain his fine motor skills to be able to type and perform his duties as an IT manager.

And most of all, he wanted to be able to pick up his 4-year-old daughter, Bailey.

Physical and occupational therapists immediately began working to help Dave regain body function.

“Time, after the stroke, is so important,” says physical therapist Erica Wallis. “The faster we get someone up and using their body, the better we can build new pathways from the brain to their muscles.”

Therapists used some of the Rehabilitation Hospital’s cutting-edge technological tools in Dave’s therapy sessions. And Dave kept himself busy between sessions doing exercises to help his progress.

“He is an amazing person,” Wallis says. “He worked so hard from Day 1. Anything we threw at him, he was up for the challenge.”

Meanwhile, speech therapist Janet Kenny helped Dave re-learn to talk. The stroke had caused his speech patterns to become loud and abrupt.

“People’s reactions at first confused him,” Kenny says. “He wasn’t aware he was speaking so harshly, so people got skittish.

“We did drills you might do in a high school drama class. I would take a phrase and ask him to say it as if he were happy, angry or another emotion. Once he was aware of the way he sounded, he was able to adjust pretty well.”

Kenny also worked with Dave on cognitive therapy, through problem solving and getting his brain to recognize the left side of his body — for instance, realizing there is a left side to a book, or being able to copy a mirror image of a drawing.

Bailey even helped out with some of her father’s therapy sessions.

“She would watch intently on what we were doing,” Wallis says. “She would help me wrap his leg or put a gait belt on. I saw videos of her doing the same things at home for her grandma. She’s my little prodigy.”

‘Passionate’ care

This past Dec. 17, Dave achieved his first major goal: He walked out of the Rehabilitation Hospital on his own for his return home. He has continued outpatient therapy at the hospital, and his gait continues to improve.

“We’re having more good days than bad,” Dave says.

The Berneros say the past few months have been a whirlwind. But they say the staff at the Rehabilitation Hospital helped them through the process.

“This place gives you much more than a therapist/patient relationship,” Lori says. “They’re passionate about what they do, and they want you to succeed.”