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Former Stroke Patient and College Athlete Learns How to Walk and Dribble a Basketball Again

Risa Turton Rambo, 54, of St. Simons Island, Ga., needed to learn how to walk again. She was at Shepherd Center following a hemorrhagic stroke that had required brain surgery. For a lifelong athlete who had played college basketball at Ole Miss, it was difficult to focus on what had always been such a simple task.  

So Risa’s physical therapists at Shepherd Center came up with an idea:  Risa wouldn’t simply learn to walk again. She would learn to walk and dribble a basketball at the same time. “They decided I needed the challenge of multi-tasking,” Risa says. “And it worked!”

Since then, Risa has been able to swim, golf, run and, yes, play basketball. She has twice competed for Team Georgia in the Transplant Games of America, a multi-sport event for individuals who have undergone life-saving transplant surgeries. In those two Games, Risa tallied 16 medals and was named Team Georgia’s Most Valuable Player at the 2012 Games in Michigan.

“I wouldn’t be able to do this without everyone who’s supported me,” she says. “That includes everyone at Shepherd Center, my family, my friends, my boyfriend. Throughout everything, I’ve never been left alone. I’ve made so many new friends who have helped see me through.”

Risa’s medical issues began with the diagnosis of restrictive cardiomyopathy, which prevented her heart from pumping blood. In 2007, she received a heart transplant at Emory University Hospital. After competing in her first two Transplant Games, Risa experienced a stroke that required brain surgery in July 2013. During her recovery, Risa was admitted to Shepherd Center’s Acquired Brain Injury Rehabilitation Program for rehabilitation, and she progressed through the outpatient program at Shepherd Pathways, a post-acute brain injury rehabilitation program in nearby Decatur, Ga.

Risa says it’s not just the ability to run marathons or compete in the Transplant Games that matters to her. It’s being able to walk on the beach with friends, to visit family and to serve on the board of the Southwest Georgia Health System in Brunswick, Ga., where she underwent brain surgery.

“What Shepherd Center gave me was a chance to pass on what’s been given to me,” Risa says.  

For more information on stroke rehabilitation at Shepherd Center, click here.

Written by Phillip Jordan

About Shepherd Center

Shepherd Center provides world-class clinical care, research, and family support for people experiencing the most complex conditions, including spinal cord and brain injuries, multi-trauma, traumatic amputations, stroke, multiple sclerosis, and pain. An elite center recognized as both Spinal Cord Injury and Traumatic Brain Injury Model Systems, Shepherd Center is ranked by U.S. News as one of the nation’s top hospitals for rehabilitation. Shepherd Center treats thousands of patients annually with unmatched expertise and unwavering compassion to help them begin again.