Stroke patient, husband start a new chapter

Michelle Martinez, center, has spent a little more than a year rehabilitating after she had a massive stroke, including learning to walk again. Martinez received help from several specialists, including occupational therapist Marcus Doughty, left, and physical therapist Jeff Kautz, right, at the Great Plains Health sports and therapy center.

In just over a year, Michelle Martinez has recovered from a massive stroke, and she and her husband, Mark, both of North Platte, credit the staff at Great Plains Health Sports and Therapy Center, from the doctors to those in the financial office.

After Michelle’s stroke in March 2017, she could neither walk nor talk. Mark, 48, left his job for one that pays less than half what he made before and took on the household duties in addition to helping Michelle, 42. With her right side (and dominant hand) that was affected, Michelle had to relearn nearly everything — writing, speaking, walking.

“It’s like starting all over,” Mark said.

Michelle first came to the GPH center for physical therapy because she was tired of sitting at home, she said. She could no longer work as a certified nursing assistant at North Platte Care Center, and “it’s boring doing physical therapy at home,” she said.

“You’re so limited,” Mark added.

Michelle worked closely with physical therapist Jeff Kautz, doing lifts and squats, strengthening her legs again. She said Kautz always had her work hard, but she has come a long way since the beginning.

“The first time we had her walking was for about 10 feet,” Kautz said.

“I can walk up and down stairs now,” Michelle said.

“It’s so easy to work with a patient like Michelle,” Kautz added. “She’s so devoted to getting better.”

Michelle also attended speech therapy with Brittany Pochop. One of the exercises Michelle remembers was a variety of tongue-twisters. Mark is especially happy that he and Michelle can communicate once again.

“I’m glad we’re a normal couple now,” he said, “’cause, man, I missed it.”

For occupational therapy, Michelle met with Marcus Doughty. Doughty said the biggest thing about OT “is bringing meaning back into life.”

The goal is to make the patient feel safe and independent in their own home, Doughty said.

“We focus on restoring function, and only if we can’t, then we will look at adaptation,” he said, which includes adjustments to Michelle’s environment.

Doughty said their main focus was on strengthening Michelle’s right hand, which included stretching exercises and Botox injections every three months.

“I can get dressed on my own, and take a shower,” Michelle said. “It’s harder to cook because my right hand gets in the way.”

Michelle said she’s burned herself a couple of times, but they’re working on it.

The center was also integral in helping the couple find financial aid after Mark switched jobs.

“They didn’t treat us like rich people or poor people,” Mark said. “They treated us like human beings.”

Office supervisor Lorie Wilson said any patient who comes to them uninsured or otherwise facing financial difficulty may qualify for aid.

“There’s an application, and it’s sent out to the billing office,” Wilson said. “And they take the info and determine what each patient qualifies for.”

Wilson said aid to patients can cover a variety of medical care and services, including rehab at the center.

“It can be used anywhere in the hospital,” she said.

Mark also received guidance from the staff at the center. He said he now has the tools he needs to better help Michelle so they can move forward together.

“It’s a whole different type of training,” he said. “(At first) I didn’t know what to do or how to deal with it. As a spouse, I’m not leaving here empty-handed. I’m not afraid like I was when we first came in.”

In all likelihood, Mark said, the stroke should have killed Michelle. Instead, one year later, she can walk again, speak again and will finish her occupational therapy in about eight weeks.

“I’m very happy with this place,” Michelle said. “They really helped me.”

Michelle has already set a personal goal for herself.

“I want to walk around the block,” she said.

“We can start a new chapter now,” Mark said, and then to Michelle he added, “I’m so proud of you.”

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