Back in Step: Louis’ Story


How a 64-year-old stroke patient got his life back through rehabilitation, one small step at a time.

On an ordinary winter evening last January, Louis Groleau closed his eyes for a good night's sleep. He never imagined the next time he opened them, his whole world would tumble upside down.

Forced awake by a pounding headache, Louis stumbled into the kitchen for some water. His hand felt funny as he filled his glass. Then his drink dribbled down his face as if he'd somehow missed his mouth.

Something was off.

Louis made his way back to bed, where his wife took one look at him and asked him to say something.

"I couldn't get the words out. She immediately recognized the stroke signs and called the ambulance," Louis said.

The next thing he knew, Louis was being rushed to Munson Medical Center, the closest hospital to his Traverse City home. On the 7th floor of the hospital, his body lay still, processing the collateral damage: total paralysis of his left arm, numbness throughout the left side of his body,  impaired balance, and difficulty with speech and comprehension. The symptoms pointed to an ischemic stroke (the most common of the three types of stroke) on the right side of his brain.

"I couldn't even sit up on the side of the bed. I just fell over,” Louis said.

Worst of all, he had no control over his bodily functions, which meant needing assistance even in the bathroom. "It was one of the hardest things," he shared.

Baby Steps

Louis Groleau - Rehab with Mary Free Bed at Munson

In spite of his sudden stroke-induced state, Louis was raring to regain function when the Mary Free Bed at Munson Medical Center team, just one wing over in the hospital, explained the benefits of their inpatient rehabilitation stroke program. Among the many types of rehabilitation services, including acute injury and wound care, Mary Free Bed at Munson Medical Center’s inpatient unit helps stroke patients recover function, speech, balance, mental cognition, and more.

Louis felt immediately at home on the unit, quickly befriending the staff and other patients, who all cheered each other on. Still, the first few weeks in the unit were the hardest for him.

"I couldn't stand up for anything. They put me on a treadmill, and I'd fall off to the left,” he explained. “I think it was more work for the therapists who were trying to keep me upright than it was for me.”

Louis put both his body and mind to the test, practicing alongside his team of physical, occupational, and speech-language therapists several hours a day, six days a week for seven straight weeks.

“We worked almost daily on his ability to manage his basic needs like dressing, self-care, and hygiene,” explained occupational therapist Haleigh Dunn.  Louis Groleau _ Rehab with Mary Free Bed at Munson

Dunn also introduced Louis to the arm skate – a wheeled hand therapy tool resembling a vintage strap-to-your-shoe roller skate – used to increase arm movement.

Louis’ physical therapist, Erika Bradway, helped him relearn to sit up, then stand, with the use of a mirror. The mirror, Bradway explained, helped Louis to visualize where his body was in space, and in turn, retrain his brain and muscles to recognize and regain his center.

On top of restoring his everyday movement, Louis had work to do cognitively as well.

“When Louis started, we had so much to work on,” explained his speech therapist, Beth Westrate. “He had difficulty swallowing. His facial expressions and voice were both flat and without variations.”

Westrate helped Louis with a combination of oral motor strengthening exercises – through jokes, storytelling, and practicing changes in facial expressions and pitch variance – as well as worksheets, card games, and visual activities.

"I never said no,” Louis said. “Anything they wanted to do, I was ready to go. And I really liked to do more than what they were asking me to.”

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Making Bigger Strides

Louis’ first memorable success was wheeling himself to the restroom without assistance. "That just made my day," he said.  Louis Groleau - Rehah with Mary Free Bed at Munson

Although his stroke robbed him of everyday functions – like the ability to bend over to retrieve something or stand up without wobbling – the real changes happening inside his brain and muscles needed time. His greatest challenge was relearning how to walk. He practiced day after day with a special ceiling harness and treadmill, helping his brain and muscles slowly adapt.

Then one mid-February day, after several weeks of practice, Louis took his first few steps on his own.

"I sat back down in my wheelchair and cried like a baby," he said, reflecting on the joy that overcame him.

Moving Forward

Today, Louis is back to business as usual. 

One of his favorite new delights is bending down. Sometimes he even purposely drops something to the ground just to take pleasure in retrieving it. He confidently walks up and down his basement steps on his way to and from the treadmill.

“I’m up to 14 minutes a day now,” he shared.

He’s experienced some of the usual bumps along the way, including a mini-stroke this past June. Louis said he didn't think twice about returning to Mary Free Bed at Munson Medical Center, ready to give his all yet  again – this time, returning home much more quickly than before.

Louis Groleau - Inpatient Rehab with Mary Free Bed at Munson

"Anyone who has a stroke needs to put their faith in the Mary Free Bed at Munson Medical Center folks. They will make improvements. There's no doubt in my mind," he shared. "The fact that I can walk through our garden and walk from the house to our farm market, which is 2/10 of a mile, and then head to the field and check out our crops. That to me is just incredible."

Louis now attends outpatient occupational and speech therapy two days per week through the same Mary Free Bed partnership Munson Medical Center is proud to be a part of. His left arm is still numb and he's working on his sequencing. Recently, he's starting to get some feeling back in his fingers.

"I think they'll be able to hear me howl all the way back to the hospital when I regain use."

Click here to read and watch more amazing rehabilitation patient stories like Louis’ and to learn more about our special partnership with the nationally recognized Mary Free Bed Rehabilitation Hospital!

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