Moving Beyond Stroke
Markee Jones continues to trust and believe in her faith and herself after sustaining a hemorrhagic stroke.
The process of moving is never easy. There are the physical challenges of lifting heavy boxes, wrapping dishware and organizing belongings. And then there are deeper, emotional challenges. For some, it can be the bittersweet feeling of leaving memories from their old home behind. For Marsha “Markee” Jones, 61, the move to her new home in Newnan, Georgia, earlier this year was a reminder of the struggles she still faces due to the hemorrhagic stroke she sustained nearly three years ago. But more than that, it also showed her the amazing progress she’s made.
“The move was eye-opening,” Markee says. “I cook, do laundry and many other things, but with moving, I couldn’t physically help like I wanted to. So, I let myself feel down for a day, and then picked myself back up because I am so grateful for all that I can do.”
In April 2018, Markee and her husband of 34 years, Mike, visited Hilton Head, South Carolina, for their pastor’s retirement party. On the night of Saturday, April 21, Markee experienced severe chest and head pains and went straight to the emergency room. Doctors initially treated her for a suspected heart attack, and they returned home to Georgia after discharge from the hospital.
“By 10 p.m. on Sunday, it felt like my head had exploded with pain,” Markee recalls. “I went to a local ER that transferred me to Piedmont Columbus Regional in Columbus, Georgia. The neurosurgeon there was a Godsend. He confirmed that I had experienced a hemorrhagic stroke.”
“Initially, my entire right side was paralyzed from the stroke, and I had pain in my head and neck,” Markee says. “I also had some cognitive deficits like misspelling words because my brain was thinking faster than I could write.”
Markee worked with a team of specialists to expedite her rehabilitation.
“I really liked that there was a set plan every day,” Markee says. “Your whole team communicates with each other, so you feel like everyone knows you well, no matter who you are working with.”
She refers to two team members in particular as her “Shepherd angels”: Liz Huls, PT, DPT, NCS,
acquired brain injury (ABI) physical therapist, and Sara Elise Ham Ciotti, M.Ed, CCC-SLP, ABI speech pathologist.
“Liz was like my sergeant, and always with a smile,” Markee jokes. “She asked me what I wanted to accomplish when I left Shepherd Center, and I told her I wanted to ride a bike. Liz came up with a plan for me to ride my bike around the gym track while she and my husband ran beside me for extra support. She always knew how to push me and make my rehabilitation fun.”
Markee also remembers an instance when Sara Elise’s vigilance stood out to her.
“I was in a speech therapy session with Sara Elise, and out of nowhere, I started rambling my words,” Markee says. “Based on her training and caring for me, she knew to look out for signs like this and called the doctor immediately. Thankfully, my CT scan came back fine, but it gave me peace of mind to know I had people like her there for me.”
As Markee progressed in her rehabilitation and her pain and symptoms began to subside, she began to return to her old self again.
“My nickname was Ms. Mayor because I spoke to all my fellow patients and knew their names,” Markee says. “I loved having the opportunity to meet everyone and encourage them every day.”
In addition to her rehabilitation team, Markee relied on faith, family and friends each day for support. Her husband lived in the Irene and George Woodruff Family Residence Center the entire time.
“Mike would pop in for meals with me every day,” Markee says with a smile. “It was great to have him nearby. I could not have survived without him! My whole family was such a support to me during this difficult time.”
Markee was discharged from Shepherd Center on June 2, 2018. By the time she left, she was no longer using a wheelchair or walker. Her cognition had also improved. Markee remembers being shocked when she reviewed her cognitive assessment from one month earlier with Chelsea Day, Psy.D., an ABI clinical neuropsychologist.
“When Dr. Day showed me my entry test, I didn’t even remember taking it because I was not doing well when I came to Shepherd Center,” Markee says. “I was so grateful for how much I had progressed.”
Today, Markee still has impairment in her right arm, hand and leg, but she prefers to focus on what she can do. She is still working on her goal to ride a bicycle and recently completed 100 days in a row of more than 10,000 steps on her fitness tracker, in part thanks to the move she just made.
“We have a ton of sidewalks and walking trails where we live now,” Markee says. “I plan to do everything I can to take care of myself so I can continue to take care of my family and others in the community. I want to give back in honor of all those who were there for me during this experience.”
Written by Damjana Alverson
Shepherd Center, located in Atlanta, Georgia, is a private, not-for-profit hospital specializing in medical treatment, research and rehabilitation for people with spinal cord injury, brain injury, multiple sclerosis, spine and chronic pain, and other neuromuscular conditions. Founded in 1975, Shepherd Center is ranked by U.S. News & World Report among the top 10 rehabilitation hospitals in the nation. In its more than four decades, Shepherd Center has grown from a six-bed rehabilitation unit to a world-renowned, 152-bed hospital that treats more than 935 inpatients, 541 day program patients and more than 7,300 outpatients each year.