Avera Medical Minute: Spinal stroke rehabilitation

Published: May. 22, 2023 at 10:42 PM CDT
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SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (Dakota News Now) - According to CDC numbers, every forty seconds, someone in the United States will have had a stroke, with every sixth one being fatal.

May is Stroke Awareness Month and is a great reminder for everyone to be on guard for the signs and symptoms of a stroke. Experts encourage people to use the acronym BE FAST to look for Balance Issues, Eye or vision problems, Face and Arm weakness, Slurred Speech, and Time to intervene.

But neurologists suggest the better advice is to be proactive and make healthier life choices to help lower your stroke risk.

“It’s always better to prevent a stroke from happening so pay attention with your primary care providers, treat your diabetes, your high blood pressure, your cholesterol, stop smoking, all those vascular risk factors that we can manage and do those ahead of time so you can prevent the future stroke where we have to do everything in the emergency room that we so commonly do,” said Dr. William Rossing, Avera neurologist.

A Sioux Falls man is making progress after a stroke last October left him unable to walk.

We first introduced you to Nick Kiesow in December as he used an innovative mechanical suit to strengthen his body and walk in short stints — something that was impossible following a stroke in his spinal cord. This type of injury is enough to make the strongest person consider giving up, but not Nick.

“You have to learn to crawl before you can walk, is how she explained it to me from day one,” Said Kiesow. “And that’s what we’ve been doing almost every single day. So we left inpatient rehab on December 6th. Then we started here with Stephanie (Stephanie Myers, Avera physical therapist) December 7th, right the next day. There really hasn’t been a lapse in any of our rehab, just knowing full well that’s the only remedy for this.”

“So I had a spinal cord stroke October 15th, woke up and had no function from my right hip down to my toes, and as that day progressed, it went into my left leg and up my body and settled just below my sternum,” said Kiesow.

“I was concerned, based on his neurologic exam, that we might be dealing with something spinal cord. Statistically, I would be more concerned about in a younger man like him, I’d be more concerned about MS (Multiple Sclerosis) or some other sort of demyelinating disorder of his spinal cord. That’s what my thought was initially, as opposed to spinal cord stroke, which is what the ultimate diagnosis was,” said Dr. William Rossing, Nick’s neurologist.

“His stroke is definitely rare of the spinal cord versus a stroke that affects the brain itself. And so you treat them a little bit different. But every person that comes in the doors is different. So you individualize the treatment,” said Stephanie Myers, Kiesow’s physical therapist.

“When we first started to walk here, Stephanie was on a stool holding my leg. I was in a harness so I couldn’t fall from the ceiling. Now it’s two canes, and she’s just walking next to me. The progression has really taken off!” said Kiesow.

“As you can see, this room is very spaced out. There are no free rides from one exercise to the next. So I’m typically either crawling or walking to that. So even during breaks, you’re still working. She maximizes every single minute of our time, which is really good,” said Kiesow.

“He is such a hard worker. It’s just really rewarding and a main reason why I’m a physical therapist — just to watch them grow and recover with injuries like this,” said Myers.

“You do the leg press, and I can even feel it, too — my right leg is way more strong and has much more strength than my left leg, and we’re just trying to get that to awaken. So doing that leg press, I can feel my right leg doing the majority of the work, which is why then she’ll transfer, and I’ll do one-leg lifts and presses just to try to get more strength through this left leg,” said Kiesow.

“It kind of brings tears to my eyes just to watch his dedication and the success that he’s having. Every day, day in and day out, he’s sweating, he’s crawling, doing things that he doesn’t really care for, but he’s driven and has goals, and I’m just super proud of him,” said Myers.

“Knowing him as a person, I know that he won’t accept anything less than 100%, and I expect that he’ll push on until he’s back to playing on the golf course,” said Dr. Rossing.

“The only way to beat this or get back to normal is to rehab. And so coming here, doing the activities and putting in the work is the only way you’re going to get back to normal eventually when you get down to one cane and then eventually no gains. I mean, that is really where I feel like we’re progressing. That’s the goal is just to get back to 100% normal,” said Kiesow.

Nick says he’s looking forward to gripping a golf club again, but his ultimate goal is to get back to being an active dad and to be able to keep up with his kids.

For more information on stroke intervention and care resources, visit avera.org/medicalminute.