In one of the last pictures taken before his stroke, photojournalist Kevin Simmons was up to his elbows in bread dough. After retiring from a lengthy broadcasting career, the St. John’s resident found a passion for baking.
Everything changed in mid-2013 when, at age 69, a sudden stroke left him with left-side paralysis and, in the first weeks, an inability to speak or to swallow. “My wife says I was talking to her but it was all garbled.”
Two-and-a-half years later, Mr. Simmons continues to push to regain what stroke took away. He is part of a CPSR-funded trial led by Memorial University’s Dr. Michelle Ploughman, testing combinations of physical and computer-based cognitive exercises to boost stroke recovery.
“If you’re not walking or functional after a year, therapy tends to stop,” he says. “But this program is saying there is more left there.”
In the seven weeks since joining the trial, “they got me to stand up on both my legs and to balance without holding onto anything and they’re getting me to get on and off the bed from the wheelchair,” says the grandfather of two toddlers. “I’m walking with a cane now and I didn’t do that before. All of it is huge. There have been amazing changes.”
He says the CPSR research team, based in St. John’s at the L.A. Miller Centre, Newfoundland’s primary rehabilitation hospital, has inspired him. “I’m steadier now. I’ve got more confidence and more determination.”
Incremental changes have increased his independence and relieved pressure on his wife so that she now feels like she can leave him alone.
“I can get out of bed and stand up and get into my chair myself. I couldn’t do that before I came down here,” Mr. Simmons says.
“At home, I can use a walker and I can maneuver myself around and get a cup and teabag, put on the kettle and make a cup of tea. I can open the fridge and get milk out. That’s stuff I can just do recently.”
While the research is still ongoing, intensive therapy delivered as part of the CPSR research study has brought increased strength to Mr. Simmons’s legs and arms and improved his balance “so when I do things on my own I’m not anxious or fearful and I can recover.”
The next goal? He is making progress towards getting back to baking