Team effort helps Topeka woman bounce back from stroke

TOPEKA, Kan. (WIBW) - Peg Wittmer loves riding her bicycle. In fact, she set a personal mileage record last November.

"That day, I went 16 (miles) - and I was so proud. I got off my bike. I felt fabulous," she said.

Afterward, she went to the grocery store.

"I walked in the door and, all of a sudden, I couldn't walk," she recalls.

Peg thought she pulled or strained a muscle during her extra activity, so she got help back to the car, drove home and took a nap.

"When I woke up, I started to bounce out of bed and almost fell over because I couldn't walk," Peg said. "I knew then that it was a problem."

It turned, Peg, who man people know from her time as an account executive at WIBW-TV and as the original radio voice of KU women's basketball, was having a stroke.

Dr. Joseph Sankoorikal of Kansas Rehabilitation Hospital said there are different types of strokes, but with some commonalities.

"There's pressure and there is an ischemia, or lack of blood circulation, to the brain which is going to kill the cells there, which in turn will impair (a patient's) mobility and other function," he said.

The Centers for Disease Control says someone in the United States has a stroke every 40 seconds. The faster you recognize symptoms, like weakness and slurred speech, the less damage.

Dr. Sankoorikal said, once at the ER, a scan will determine whether a stroke involves any bleeding. If it does not, new medications can make all the difference.

"They can do some IV medications to stop the progression of the stroke and maybe even reverse it in a very good way," he said.

Recovery depends on the severity, and often involves a team approach.

Cydney Bunner, a speech therapist at Kansas Rehab, helps patients regain skills like memory, talking and swallowing.

"Things that you kind of take for granted. We all know how to swallow and don't think about it," she said. "Sometimes we work with making it better, but then we also, at the same time, work on how can we make you functional at this moment in time."

Peg worked with Bunner, plus physical and occupational therapists to get back on her feet - and her bike!

"I haven't tried running but I can definitely walk!" she laughs.

The improvements are gratifying for staff.

"It's very rewarding for them to have that sense of feeling that they're getting themselves back," Bunner said.

Peg still has some short-time memory trouble and her right leg drags a bit, but she says words cannot express how lucky she feels.

"That would be the last thing that I would think would have happened to me but it did - and I'm just grateful it wasn't worse," she said.

Think F.A.S.T. to Stop Stroke
F - Face drooping on one side
A - Arm drifts down
S - Slurred speech
T - Time to call 911