Spinal Care, Neurology, Spinal Medical Advice and Information.

Rehabilitating a Body and Soul

Although regaining his physical abilities was tough, stroke patient Bill Jones believes he has received more than was ever taken away.

At the age of 50, Bill Jones couldn’t fathom why his left side suddenly refused to work properly. He had had his share of aches and pain through the years from sports and working construction. But this was different. He had no idea what was happening. Not only was he unable to control the left side of his body, he couldn’t really feel it, either.

The stroke Jones suffered that morning in the fall of 2003 changed his life forever. He doesn’t remember many details immediately following the stroke, which occurred while he was working at a construction site in San Pedro. He recalls the paramedics trying to calm him down during the trip to the emergency department at Little Company of Mary – San Pedro Hospital. He was terrified.

Troy Zelones, lead physical therapist at the acute rehab center and Jones’ main therapist, recalls seeing him for the first time right after Jones was taken to a medical floor of the hospital after being stabilized in the ED. He had been asked to evaluate his condition and eligibility for acute rehab. Zelones explained that in addition to physical changes, patients may also experience changes in emotion, inhibition, judgment or ability to focus. “Bill was really bummed when I met him,” Zelones says, “but I told him that I’d take care of him.”

For Jones, however, the process was frustrating. “It’s really difficult to have to rely on people to dress you, feed you, help you go to the bathroom,” he says. “Even when you start to recover a little movement, picking up your fork or scratching your nose is a project. You have to learn to trust yourself. You’ve got to believe in your body, but it’s hard; the confidence is gone.”

Jones claims he wouldn’t have made it through recovery if not for the support and caring he received from the nurses and therapists. “I’d cry at night and they’d just sit and talk to me, give me hope. All the nurses were wonderful. The nurses are key to your recovery because they’re with you one-on-one all the time.”

He also marvels at the therapists’ ability to tirelessly work, hour after hour, at a job that is physically demanding. Jones is 6' 4" and 260 pounds when he first entered rehab, and he recalls physical therapy assistant Nancy Jackson, whom he says may be as slight as 125 pounds, helping him walk. “The therapists are really good,” Jones says. “They show so much love, you just have to give it back. A smile or hug means so much. They don’t get enough recognition.”

Jackson, however, is quick to throw the praise right back in Jones’ direction. “We’re a team here, certainly,” she says, “but the patient is the main player. Bill worked hard, sweating just to get his arm to move. He used every bit of energy he had to get the job done. Sometimes, we had to slow him down so he wouldn’t go backward (in his progress). He followed through with our directions very well.”

Jones was determined not to wile away his time between therapy sessions holed up in his bed. He befriended a merchant mariner from Turkey who arrived in the unit within days of him in virtually the same condition. The two became inseparable.

“Bill really brought the Turkish patient out of his shell,” Zelones says. “Bill’s humor, motivation and hard work opened him up. Their recoveries paralleled each other pretty closely.” It’s possible that both men’s recoveries were hastened by the other’s presence.

Jones returned home in January 2004, a changed man, and not just physically. During his initial, lengthy hospital stay, he had promised God that he would return the good work of the people in the hospital in any way he could. Jones now volunteers at the facility several times a week. “If I can touch one or two people here, it’s worth it,” he says.

For Jackson, it was amazing how willing — and how quickly — Jones gave back to the community after he was discharged. “People get scared,” she explains, “but he just got out there right away. It really demonstrates his spirit — he didn’t let anything stand in his way. He knew he had a life to live, and he wasn’t going to waste another moment.”

Jones suffered a setback in 2005. Recognizing that he might be having another stroke, he got to the hospital right away and was able to minimize the effects. This time, Jones was hospitalized for only three days. Because of his quick action, he didn’t lose any of the skills he had to relearn after the first stroke; he simply wasn’t able to do them as well.

Now, Jones attends therapy sessions for 45 minutes twice a week. He also walks every day, does various strengthening exercises, and rides a stationary bike. Brenda Chan, his outpatient physical therapist, says, “He’s very motivated to get his strength and balance back and to get back to what he used to do.” She focuses on teaching Jones a safe, effective flexibility and strength program and helps with pain management.

Jones should be proud of himself and how far he has come. In a recent therapy session, he mirrored Chan in a spirited side step drill across the room of the rehab center that would have some tennis players tripping over their own feet.

Jones rates himself at 85 to 90% recovered, which amazes him because he had been told that some people in his condition never learn to walk again. “That’s the wrong thing to say to me,” Jones declares. Or maybe it was just what he needed to hear.