Contributions by: Abby Persicketti
Looking to our past, we can all agree that there are days in which we can never quite erase from our memory, whether good or bad. For retired law enforcement officer, Steve Deckelman, January 18, 2017 was one of those days, and one that would forever change his life. On that day, as Steve went about his daily routine, he unexpectedly suffered a right side pons brain stem stroke. Before we go on, it’s important to note that the pons is a part of the brain stem that regulates ones breathing rate and helps the transmission of signals to and from other structures in the brain. Hearing, balance, deep sleep and taste are also affected by the pons.
As a result, Steve lost all movement and function on the left side of his body. This included his fine motor skills and his ability to walk, talk and swallow using the left side of his throat. Steve never had imagined sustaining such a debilitating condition would remodel his fully-functioning and healthy lifestyle.
With much hope lost and the road ahead looking bleak, Steve put his last coin of optimism into the ATI Physical Therapy team at the Morris, Illinois West clinic. As fate would have it, through patience, strength and courage, Steve persevered, and had this to say, “I couldn’t have made a more beneficial decision to undergo PT [physical therapy] with ATI - they undeniably led me to better health. I never thought I’d be given a second chance like this.”
Steve underwent his extensive PT and occupational therapy (OT) treatment under the professional guidance of clinic director Dave James, MS, ATC, and Stephanie Rodriguez, PT, DPT. Given the nature of Steve’s condition, his treatment demanded uncharacteristic levels of discipline both in the clinic and out. Rather than us tell the story, we felt it was only necessary to hear it direct from Steve and his ATI support team, Dave and Stephanie.
(Photo Credit: Steve Deckelman)
What expectations did you have going into therapy?
Steve: My PT treatment gave me a sense of worth. The entire staff made me feel welcomed from day one; almost as if I was part of a big family. This really made a difficult and scary situation much easier for me to manage. From day one, they were not easy on me, but firm. I realized it was up to me to do the hard work, of course with their professional guidance, so I wouldn’t hurt myself. I worked tirelessly, and each of the above-mentioned staff cheered me on, so I never got discouraged. As my health progressed, their encouragement lifted my spirits and gave me even more desire to push myself.
What was your treatment like? Was it tougher or easier than you expected?
Steve: I had to relearn my balance and how to walk again, so PT was an exhausting three times a week. The hand therapy side had me relearning very basic fine motor skills by incorporating exercises that were specific to my needs and progressions. This had a huge impact in my success. Throughout my treatment, I fought like hell because even though it was very, very difficult, I did not want to let the staff down.
At what point during your treatment did you start noticing a difference in your health and physical strength?
Steve: I would say after a few weeks, and with the little signs of observable progression, it gave me even more determination to fight harder. The more I showed improvement, the harder I wanted to try, and the more I wanted to encourage others around me to join in.
In what ways has physical therapy helped you in your daily life?
Steve: It gave me hope that you CAN bounce back from a life changing event such as a stroke. I apply this learning to my daily life, and continue to give my all no matter what I’m doing. The level of motivation I received at the Morris West clinic, under Dave’s tutelage, was the real winner here. Without them, I’m not sure where I’d be.
How have things been since graduating from your PT treatment?
Steve: I’ve kept up on my program, and continue to be positive about my physical conditions. As a retired police officer, I always had great physical abilities, which have been diminished by the stroke. But ATI gave me hope, and a chance at a new beginning by helping me get some of my physical function back. They are truly my heroes. For those reading this, if you or anyone you know has/is dealing with the aftermath of a stroke, I highly recommend giving ATI a chance.
On the opposite side of the treatment table, ATI specialists Dave James, MS, ATC, and Stephanie Rodriguez, PT, DPT share their perspectives on Steve’s progressions and efforts throughout his treatment.
What stood out about Steve during his treatment?
Stephanie:Steve had such a dignified attitude, commitment, and courtesy towards our team and other patients in the clinic.
Dave:Steve was such a riot to have in the clinic. He always made other people laugh and smile with his sense of humor. His determination was exceptional. He never gave up and was always positive.
What do you feel were the keys to Steve’s treatment successes?
Stephanie:With Steve, it was important to continually address patient-centered goals and make each treatment session fun.
Dave:I agree with Stephanie, but I’d also add that his determination and positivity really drove his success. I can’t stress that enough. He was so determined to conquer anything that we gave him to do, and conquer he did!
Given Steve’s high-energy personality, we want to hear some of the memorable moments through his treatment?
Stephanie: Aside from Steve’s infectious “can-do” attitude, I’ll never forget the time when he said that the wall on “PT” side of the clinic should be painted with Harley flames.
Dave:Initially, Steve was being seen for OT and PT, so his commitment to time in therapy was great. He was very positive through both courses of treatment. At times, he would say, “I don’t know if I can do it, but I am sure going to try”, so that should give you an idea of the warrior Steve is. Adding to that, his genuine appreciation for when he was finished with therapy, his gratitude, and level of sincerity were a true inspiration for all of us. This is what it’s all about!