After Memphis-Shelby County School Board member Stephanie Love had a stroke at just 41 years old, she was determined to get back to advocating for local students, parents and teachers.
She turned to Regional One Health Outpatient Rehabilitation for the care she needed to relearn to walk, talk and perform day-to-day tasks.
Now, Stephanie continues to make an amazing recovery, which has allowed her to regain her independence and get back to the work and family she loves.
As she got ready for a Memphis-Shelby County Schools budget retreat last February, board member Stephanie Love had plenty of things on her mind: the students and parents she advocates for, the educators who support them, the community she strives to improve through her service.
At age 41, the last thing Stephanie was thinking about was a medical crisis.
But when that became her reality, she applied the same focus and passion she is known for as a school board member to her recovery – and found a team of rehabilitation therapists at Regional One Health who supported her every step of the way.
“My stroke came out of nowhere,” Stephanie said. “I had no warning signs. I don’t have diabetes or high cholesterol. I don’t smoke; I don’t drink. It was out of left field.”
It was early on the morning of the retreat, and Stephanie was doing her hair when she collapsed.
It would be eight hours until she was found, during which time she had another stroke and lost consciousness. She woke up when she heard someone kicking down her door – her fellow board members had raised the alarm, ultimately reaching her cousin, whose husband rushed to Stephanie’s home.
From there, Stephanie’s memories come in bits and pieces: her cousin and a friend dressing her, paramedics bringing a stretcher up her stairs, lying in a bed at a local hospital.
Today, she can joke about some of it, like how she watched with growing alarm as meal trays bypassed her room three times a day. Unable to communicate or move her left side, she worried she was going to starve, only to learn later she was on a feeding tube.
After a difficult month, Stephanie was able to go home – but her journey was far from over.
“I couldn’t talk, so I was playing charades with everybody. I couldn’t walk. I lost sensation on the left side of my body, and I’m left-handed,” she said. “It was hard just staying in my house all day. I’ve worked all my life, ever since I was 16, and it gives me purpose.”
Stephanie knew she had to reclaim her independence, and she faced the challenge with the belief that her deep faith in God and excellent medical care would get her there.
She started seeing Occupational Therapist Dardhielle Jean, OTR/L, CHT and Speech-Language Pathologist Michelle Fowke, CCC-SLP at Regional One Health’s Center for Rehabilitative Medicine. She was impressed with the dedication and skill of her multidisciplinary rehab team.
“The care is like no other. They push you continuously,” she said. “You can’t just keep doing the same things, so you have to make up your mind to continue.”
In occupational therapy, Stephanie relearned how to do day-to-day activities.
“An illness or injury can impact patients’ ability to do Activities of Daily Living, like bathing and getting dressed, as well as more complex tasks like cooking and taking care of their home,” Jean said. “We focus on both trying to remediate deficits patients acquired and teaching them new ways to be independent.”
Occupational therapy includes weight-bearing techniques, orthotics, electrical stimulation, and exercises. Jean said Stephanie’s dedication has been key to her progress: “It’s very important for patients to do their part. We focus on things you can do at home, and the more you do the better.”
While tasks like sweeping and taking hot dishes from the oven remain hard, Stephanie is back to doing most things herself. “I can do my own hair with a little help, I’m able to cook for the most part. I can clean as well as anyone, wash my own clothes, make my own bed, drive,” she said.
Meanwhile, Fowke worked with Stephanie on reclaiming her voice. Speech therapy includes a variety of techniques designed to restore speech and cognitive abilities and to compensate for deficits. The exercises increase in complexity as the patient progresses.
“I learned to blow through a straw, then gargle, then say hi,” Stephanie said. “Then, my cousin told me to say ‘I love you,’ and I said it! It took two months, but ever since I’ve been talking.”
Stephanie continues rehabilitation twice weekly.
“I want to talk without getting a brain freeze, and my left arm is still paralyzed, so the most important thing is for my arm to wake up,” she said. “I know it will. God didn’t bring me this far to make me not use my left hand, because then I won’t have a way to praise him.”
Thanks to her progress, Stephanie is getting back to what matters most.
She attends worship services every Sunday, spends time with her two teenage daughters and two adult sons, and returned part-time to her work for the school system. She looks forward to going back full-time and also resuming her career as a licensed cosmetologist.
Stephanie said the experience has only deepened her faith, and she is grateful to God, the family and friends who supported her, and the rehab team that continues pushing her to take the next steps in her recovery journey.
“Life is what you make of it – you have to have it inside you to push through,” Stephanie said. “I never pictured myself having a stroke, but God saw it. I want it to be my testimony that you can recover. I want to be an example for someone else going through this.”