By Joel Hall
Until the late 1990s, Edwin "Ed" Faulkner, 78, spent his career as a wholesaler in the heating and air, and refrigerator business. Faulkner was enjoying retirement in Fayetteville earlier this year, when a sudden turn of events changed his life.
In January, Faulkner had a stroke. His path to recovery took him to Southern Regional Medical Center in Riverdale.
"I was sleeping," Faulkner said. "I woke up to go to the bathroom and when I went back to bed, I was seeing double. I knew I had had a stroke. I called my daughter and she told me to call and ambulance and I did."
In Southern Regional's Rehabilitation Center, he underwent more than a month of treatment to regain the use of the left side of his body. According to Kim Anda, stroke outreach coordinator for Southern Regional, the hospital is one of only a few hospitals south of Interstate 20 with a full rehabilitation center. She said the center is crucial, given the state's high incidence of stroke.
"Living in Georgia, we are in the stroke belt itself," Anda said. "There are very few services [for stroke] on the south side. Given what part of the Southern Crescent you are looking at, there are a lot of challenges. Part of it is diet, part of it is demographics."
According to Anda, the Rehabilitation Center at Southern Regional has been in place for two and half years, helping patients regain normalcy after brain injuries, hip replacement, car wrecks, and other trauma. Within the last year, the hospital has improved the way it treats stroke victims, gaining accreditation from the Joint Commission as a primary certified stroke center in November of 2008, and creating a peer-to-peer brain injury support group in February of this year.
"It can be very devastating to find out that you have had a stroke," Anda said. "In the immediate phase, they [patients] are faced with a lot of uncertainty. We try to obtain the highest functional level that the person had before they came to the hospital."
A stroke is a rapid loss of brain function due to a disruption of blood flow to the brain. Faulkner faced one of the most devastating types of stokes, a stroke in the basilar artery, the main artery that supplies oxygen-rich blood to the brain.
Linda Faulkner, Mr. Faulkner's daughter and a nurse practitioner at Southern Regional, said strokes in the basilar artery are usually deadly.
"He had a stroke that they said should have killed him because it was his basilar artery," the younger Faulkner said. "Somehow, he kept going," but, "it affected his whole left side. He could not walk ... he could not stand."
At the Rehabilitation Center, Mr. Faulkner had to learn how to cook again, how to make his bed again, how to dress, how to walk on his own, and perform a series of daily muscle-strengthening exercises. He said the experience was sobering, but never hopeless.
"I guarantee you that after 90 repetitions, two-pound weights get heavy," Mr. Faulkner said. "It was a lot of work, but we laughed and kidded along the way. They wouldn't push you in the wheelchair, you had to push it yourself. They worked you over good every day, but it was the proper thing to do."
While he is still recovering from the stroke, Mr. Faulkner has been able to do his therapy sessions at home since the end of February. His daughter said his improvement, since enrolling in the hospital's rehabilitation program, has been significant.
"By the time he left that place, he was on a walker, he could dress himself, they taught him to cook," the younger Faulkner said. "Now he is able to walk on a cane. He is doing just fantastic. [The stroke] stopped his quality of life until he went to rehab and now he has that back because of them."
Mr. Faulkner said that since the stroke, he has been unable to drive, but would like to do so eventually. He urged people to watch their weight, manage contributing factors such as smoking and diabetes, and pay attention to warning signs.
"I would imagine the best thing to do is keep the weight off and stay in shape," he said. "Work hard with the therapists that the doctors tell you to [work with] and you'll get back to normal sooner, than not."