September 16, 2003
Stroke survivor focuses on recovery, getting back to work
By Lisa Uzzle Gates
Health and Research News Service
JACKSON, Miss.—Greg Hayes had one thing on his mind that January morning—getting to work.
So as he headed out the door, he paid little attention to a strange tingling sensation in his right arm—until his wife Cheryl noted his speech was slurred.
“The more he talked to me, the worse it seemed to get,” she said.
Worried that Greg might be having a stroke, the Hayes headed to the emergency room where their fears were confirmed. The 47-year-old owner of G&G Lawn Service had joined the ranks of the more than 750,000 Americans each year who suffer a stroke.
By late that afternoon, he was 85 to 95 percent paralyzed on his right side.
While strokes are commonly associated with the elderly, Greg Hayes’ experience illustrates that it’s not just seniors who need to be stroke-savvy. The National Stroke Association says a third of stroke victims each year are under the age of 65.
Greg Hayes’ risk of stroke was higher than for many his age because of a combination of risk factors. Having hypertension and diabetes raised his risk, as does being male and African-American.
“Stroke strikes people of all ages and backgrounds, but it has been especially prevalent among African-Americans,” said Janice McGee, vice-president of nursing and director of the stroke program at Methodist Rehabilitation Center in Jackson.
“There is a lot of research into why this is the case and we still don’t know all the answers. So in the meantime, it’s wise for everyone to understand what their risks are and what they can do to protect themselves,”
McGee said it’s also important to become familiar with stroke symptoms, because treatment is more effective if given quickly.
Like many, Cheryl Hayes said she expected a stroke would be a dramatic event. She didn’t notice the more subtle signs of impending trouble, such as the severe headache her husband had the night before his stroke. “He had been having bouts with his sinuses and we attributed it to that,” she said.
Even after the Hayes made it to the hospital, “we really didn’t understand what was going on,” she said. “He was even talking about getting back to his work. But they came in and needed him to sign something. The pen fell out of his hand on to the floor, and we realized he couldn’t write.”
Shortly after that, Hayes tried to walk and immediately began to collapse. “It was very scary,” Cheryl Hayes remembers.
Once he got over the initial shock, Hayes decided to make the best of a bad situation. “I always try to look at the positive side of things. And I was ready to get better so I could get back to work,” he said.
He didn’t argue when therapists got him out of bed the next morning and began helping him to walk as best he could. About a week later, he was transferred to Methodist Rehabilitation Center in Jackson to continue his rehabilitation. The paralysis still had a grip on his right side, but he was focused on recovery. “The therapists can set you up and get you started, but you have to be willing to do the work, and you have to think positive. Therapy is hard work, but it’s the only way you will see improvement,” Greg Hayes said.
After two weeks of in-patient therapy, Hayes began out-patient visits to Quest, Methodist’s community reintegration program for patients with brain injuries.
“Our philosophy is that the sooner you start rehabilitation, the better results you will see long-term,” said Joyce Leverenz, admissions coordinator for Quest. “Mr. Hayes is such a hard worker that has had a big impact on his recovery.”
At Quest, Hayes began working on memory problems caused by the stroke, as well as continuing his physical therapy.
“He’s had excellent cognitive recovery,” said occupational therapist Nik Carnathan.
He’s also regained much of his movement on his right side and is walking unaided, though he still has a slight limp. “When he came in he was walking with a cane. He couldn’t even raise his right arm. He has made a lot of progress,” said physical therapist Rachel Dear.
Now that he has graduated from Quest, Hayes will continue his fitness pursuits at Physability, a YMCA program designed for people who have some sort of disability or chronic pain. “It will allow him to continue building his strength and improving his mobility,” Dear said.
Hayes’ progress has been so good that he’s been able to do what he was focused on all along—getting back to work. His brothers and his son have kept his business going, and he is now able to work three to four hours a day, though he has to be careful in the summer heat. He hopes to increase the amount of time he can work, but knows he does not need to resume his former 72-hour-a-week pace.
While Hayes credits God, his medical team and his own hard work for his recovery, he says he had a lot of support. “My church, Cherry Grove Missionary Baptist Church, and my family have been a real blessing,” he said.
Cheryl Hayes said the healing process began the day he had the stroke. “We just started praying and reading scripture and focusing on his rehabilitation.”
Warning signs for stroke
- Sudden numbness or weakness of the face, arm or leg, especially on one side of the body
- Sudden confusion, trouble speaking or understanding
- Sudden trouble seeing in one or both eyes
- Sudden trouble walking, dizziness, loss of balance or coordination
- Sudden, severe headache with no known cause
If you notice one or more of these signs in another person or yourself call 9-1-1 or your local emergency medical services number immediately. Treatment can be more effective if given quickly. People in high-risk categories should be especially aware of the warning signs. Not all of these signs occur with every stroke. Sometimes they go away and return. Consult your physician about your risks.
Physical therapist Rachel Dear works with Greg Hayes of Jackson at Quest, Methodist Rehabilitation Center's community reintegration program for patients with brain injuries. Hayes, who suffered a stroke in January, has graduated from Quest and continues his fitness pursuits at Physability, a YMCA program designed for people who have some sort of disability or chronic pain.