It was a trip Bill McNeal made often, driving home from work on I-95 on a Friday afternoon.
“All of a sudden, boom, my left hand fell off the steering wheel,” he said. “I thought I was just exhausted.”
He drove home using his right hand to steer. But when he didn’t feel better, his wife took him to Christiana Care’s Middletown Emergency Department. Suspecting a stroke, the staff immediately sent him via ambulance to Christiana Hospital, a comprehensive stroke center that provides the most advanced level of expertise in stroke care.
In addition to his symptoms, McNeal, 63, had a number of risk factors for stroke, including hypertension, Type 2 diabetes and sleep apnea. His mother died from a stroke.
Tests confirmed that he had suffered a pontine perforator stroke, in which an obstruction occurs in a blood vessel that goes to the brain stem.
“It’s caused by chronic small blood vessel disease related to his hypertension and diabetes,” said Waimei Amy Tai, M.D., a vascular neurologist with Christiana Care Neurology Specialists.
McNeal’s condition was stabilized with medications. But the stroke had taken a toll on his body and cognitive ability.
“I could get up, but I needed a walker to get around,” he said. “I could not speak as clearly as I did before the stroke.”
Work on his recovery began right away. He was evaluated and treated by rehabilitation teams skilled in physical, occupational, speech and cognitive therapies who addressed his specific, individual needs to achieve the best quality of life possible.
McNeal was hospitalized the day before Thanksgiving 2015. He went home from the hospital on Thanksgiving Day with an enhanced sense of gratitude.
After the holiday he continued with physical therapy and occupational therapy, relearning such tasks as tying his shoes and picking up coins. “I needed to get moving,” he said.
Speech therapy was his most difficult challenge.
“It required me to think, and that wore me out,” he said. “But the more reading and speaking I did, the better I got.”
Because he could not drive, Christiana Care staff connected him with a bus service from the Middletown Odessa and Townsend Senior Center.
“They picked me up at the house and dropped me up at the front door of the PT center,” he said. “There were no barriers, nothing to keep me from getting the help I needed.”
By mid-March, McNeal had exchanged his walker for a cane and was back at his job as a logistics analyst on a reduced schedule. In September, he and his wife Joyce flew to Los Angeles for his nephew’s wedding.
“I was determined to walk to the terminal at the airport instead of going in a wheelchair — and I was able to do just that,” he said. “Under no circumstances do you give up.”
Today, McNeal is back behind the wheel, driving to his job, where he now works a full schedule. He goes to the gym on a regular basis. He also has resumed target shooting, a favorite pastime before the stroke.
“I can hit what I aim at,” he said.
He feels fortunate each day that he has regained his strength and mobility, an outcome he attributes to his partnership with the expert providers at Christiana Care.
“When people ask me how I made my recovery I tell them I had the best care around — and I was willing to do my part to get well,” he said.