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"Relentless" Rehab After Stroke Survivor Experiences Locked-In Syndrome

12:56 PM, May 30, 2013   |    comments
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(WUSA9)-- It is a love fest in the hallways of Medstar National Rehabilitation Hospital, as one of the staff's most beloved 'star' patients returns for a visit.

Allison O'Reilly suffered a massive stroke in her brain stem in 2010 when she was just 49 years old; her initial symptoms- arm pain that went away, then vertigo and dizziness- did not, in her mind, point to a stroke. 

O'Reilly says, "The room started spinning. I was feeling sick and my ears were ringing." 

Allison went to the hospital from her home in McLean, Va., but she was sent home with an initial diagnosis of dehydration. The next morning, her husband Kevin tried to give her some juice, and the liquid ran down her face.  When he pulled back the covers of the bed, he found his wife's limbs drawn up and frozen in place.  Allison says, "My hands were in a stroke position."

Allison O'Reilly wouldn't move again for months; she was in a rare, and sometimes permanent state called "locked-in syndrome."  She says it was a nightmarish experience.  "You know everything that is going on, but you can't move. All you can do is blink your eyes."

Kevin O'Reilly remembers the grim prognosis.  He says, "The feeling in the hospital was that she would not recover from that 'locked-in' state. So they suggested going to a rest home, just to keep her comfortable."

But the O'Reilly's decided that was not acceptable, and Alison began what can only be described as a relentless rehabilitation program during a four and half month stay at NRH. She communicated with nurses like Helen Obidiran, RN with her eyes. Obidiran moved her arms and legs until she could slowly begin using them on her own. Allison was also in a special bed that would shift her body weight slightly on a continuous basis to prevent pressure sores from forming. Eventually, Alison regained many of her motor skills, began to speak, and learned to walk again. 

Obidiran says Allison's triumphs stay with her to this day. "Oh my God, I love my job. This is what makes me happy as a nurse. When I see patient who came in here and couldn't do anything, and now is walking and can do everything, it keeps me going."

Allison believes the care she received at NRH saved her life.  She says, "They really nurture you to do better, but you have to want to do it yourself."

She is one of three stroke survivors who are honored guests at a luncheon and fashion show aimed at stroke awareness for women. It is happening Wednesday, May 29th at Old Angler's Inn in Potomac Maryland.  WUSA 9's Anita Brikman is one of the co-chairs of the event; fashions from Bloomingdale's and a spring luncheon menu will be featured. 

Tickets to the fashion show can be purchased in advance at:

 MedStarNRH-FashionShow.Eventbrite.com

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