Valley Vista Team Tackles Stroke Together

 In Conditions & Treatments

Valley Vista Team Tackles Stroke Together


t couldn’t have been a more textbook retirement. Tom and Karen Hukle discovered Sandpoint 16 years ago. “We found a beautiful spot overlooking the long bridge and were settled by 1999,” says Karen. Coming from the Seattle area and having years of sailing experience, being close to the water was essential. Tom had worked for years designing masts and rigging, so he quickly became involved with the local sailing club, winning the Spud Cup in 2013. “Life was good!” Karen exclaims.

Then, on the morning of October 16, 2014, the proverbial rug was pulled out. “I awoke and tried to get out of bed but crashed to the floor! I called to Karen,” Tom says, “but the words that came out were indecipherable.”

Tom was swiftly air-lifted from Sagle to KMC. Karen shares, “Our world was turned upside down and inside out – so much, so fast!”

Diagnosis: Stroke.  The right side of Tom’s body was now significantly weakened, considerably limiting his ability to move his body like he used to do without any thought. The struggle and fight to return to normalcy began.

After being stabilized medically, Tom was transferred to Northwest Rehabilitation Hospital to begin his rehabilitation. Then home with home health therapies on December 8, 2014. “How do I do this?” Karen remembers thinking. “My hip was hurting, I had been told I needed a hip replacement, and my back wasn’t strong enough to lift Tom. I’m not up to this,” she thought.

The next day, the therapists from Valley Vista Care Center of Sandpoint who partner with Panhandle Home Health, initiated treatment in the home and began encouraging both of us. We were so overwhelmed!” Karen sighs.

In the beginning, the sensation of weight on Tom’s weakened right leg was suddenly foreign. Standing from his chair required moderate assistance just to keep from falling over.  The physical therapist, Lyle Harder, began with teaching Tom trunk and pelvic stability, then moving on to standing, and shifting weight from left to right. But Tom wanted to walk!  “Phooey with this rubbish,” Tom would think. But patiently it was explained that he had to relearn these things from the beginning.  “I thought I could just get up and take off – walking is no big deal, right?” says Tom. Tom can now walk from the living room into their bedroom with exceptionally good technique. “Helping Tom move from his wheelchair to the recliner was frightening at first,” Karen recalls, “but he’s now transferring without help! “

Kristin McMiller, occupational therapist, focused initially on daily skills of living, recently taken for granted. Bathing, going to the bathroom, getting in and out of bed, and dressing were suddenly monumental tasks. Special equipment was set up to make life easier, such as a toilet riser and tub bench. Certain techniques were taught to encourage Tom in doing his own daily care activities by using his strong side. Kristin set to work retraining the muscles in his right shoulder to provide stability for all hand tasks. Increased muscle tone in the forearm and hand required frequent stretching to decrease pain and improve his grasp.  Tom can now grip a front-wheeled walker with both hands.

Tom’s speech therapist, Rob Aronow began to work with Tom on his speech deficit called aphasia. Some words he was able to wrestle out, but many were just a jumble and difficult for others – even Karen, to decipher. This was very frustrating to Tom who had always been confident in his speech.  With Rob’s coaching, Tom is now finding words and organizing his thoughts more coherently to express his needs, wants, and ideas. Hard work, determination and a good sense of humor have been keys to Tom’s success with his communication.

“Our therapists have guided us in using objects around the house so that we have a veritable “Gym” right here in our home!” Karen beams.

Tom continues his journey of recovery at the Valley Vista Outpatient Therapy Clinic with the same therapists that provided home health therapy. This allows a smooth transition of care with therapists that know exactly where Tom is in his therapy process. Valley Vista Care Sandpoint, provides this continuity of care through short term therapy stays, to home health, to outpatient therapy for our community.  It may be a few months before Tom hoists the sails again on Lake Pend Oreille, but with the guidance of his team – the physical, occupational and speech therapists from Valley Vista, he’ll make it!

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