Patient Story: Slowly Back to Life — 7 Weeks of Stroke Recovery
After almost two months in the hospital, 32-year-old Pedro Santos is finally back home with his family. The path to this point, however, hasn’t been particularly easy.
Pedro recalls returning home from work one October evening, earlier this year. Along with his wife Sara, they began to get their 9-month-old daughter ready for bed, splashing through bath time and up and out to their bedroom, to dry her off and tuck her in. As Sara left for the kitchen, Pedro remembers setting their daughter down on the bed—within a split second, a wave of disorientation rushed over him. He suddenly felt intensely dizzy and couldn’t see straight. Sara heard Pedro cry out for help and when she hurried into the room, she found him with his eyes fluttering. As a siren blared in the background, Pedro vaguely remembers racing in an ambulance down I-95, but from there, it mostly goes dark.
It was very clear that something was wrong, but when Pedro arrived at the Lahey Hospital & Medical Center Emergency Department, his symptoms—the fluttering eyes, slurred speech, limp left side—had all disappeared. Then, abruptly, the symptoms would return, only to disappear again. Back and forth, back and forth. To better understand the problem, Pedro was wheeled over to an emergency MRI. This was around the time that Sara arrived at the hospital and as she sat there, next to Pedro, she was told that he had suffered an extremely rare type of stroke. Pedro was quickly put on blood thinners and transported to surgery to remove the clot that was preventing blood from reaching his brain. By 8 pm, just a little over an hour after Sara had called 911, Pedro came out of a successful surgery.
While the immediate danger had passed, the road to recovery was still uncertain. The following day, his health worsened as brain swelling began to increase. There were some positives, though. While he was mostly unable to speak or move his left side, Pedro could still communicate through blinks and hand gestures. When he would start to get frustrated, he might respond with a middle finger and a grin on his face—a little of his trademark, goofball personality shining through.
As the days continued, so too did the hiccups; frequent relapses in left-side mobility, clotting in his leg, pneumonia—all the possible complications involved in stroke recovery were there. Whenever his family was around, however, Pedro’s condition always appeared to improve. Gradually, baby step by baby step, he started to get better.
During the day, Pedro would practice slowly moving his limbs, a sensation that felt like struggling through heavy sand. A few days later, he was able to finally stand, with a little help, for the first time since his stroke. Sara remembers watching Pedro do physical therapy by practicing his dance moves, bopping gently from side to side, as if he were at a middle school dance. Soon, he was able to start using a walker to move short distances around the hospital floor.
This is also around the time when Pedro can start to remember details of his recovery and hospital stay. While the day of the stroke is still quite clear in his mind, the following few weeks are spotty or altogether nonexistent. Those last days of rehabilitation, though, become clearer.
By mid-November, Pedro was finally allowed to return home to his family. Slowly, the outline of a normal life is starting to show again, but there are still difficulties. For one, everyday tasks like emptying the dishwasher or reaching for a phone are exercises in patience and determination, as Pedro continues to relearn how to use the left side of his body. Mostly, it’s just been a relief to be back with his wife and daughter, though. “Thank you so much to everyone at Lahey,” shares Pedro. “I don’t remember a lot of it, but I’m here, I’m thriving! Somebody did something right.”