Walking the Road to Recovery After Stroke

It’s not often that a patient returns to a hospital thousands of miles away to thank his caregivers. But that didn’t stop California resident Earl Siems from making a Holland Hospital “reunion” part of his vacation plans.

Earl lived in Holland for 30 years and taught industrial arts at Zeeland High School for a time before retiring to a small village near Palm Springs. In May 2012, while back in Holland to visit family, Earl, then 77, suffered a severe stroke and was taken by ambulance to Holland Hospital. The next week was a blur as Earl went from the emergency room to intensive care and began the long road to recovery.

Earl’s wife Chris, however, clearly remembers the physicians, nurses, therapists, speech pathologist, and other staff who, she says, “laid the groundwork for my husband’s recovery.” Last June Chris recounted their experience in an email to Holland Hospital. “Looking back now—just a little over a year later—I can better understand the remarkable help we received from each and every one of you,” she wrote. “In retrospect, I realized how extraordinary they were,” she later explained. Last summer, back in town again to visit family, the Siemses returned to Holland Hospital to thank Earl’s caregivers in person.

Emergency physician Scott Loos and a half dozen nurses and therapists gathered to welcome the couple. They were amazed to see Earl walk in—slowly, but without any assistance. When he had left Holland Hospital in 2012, he could just barely, with much effort, move his left foot. “I’m extremely surprised,” Dr. Loos said. “When I last saw him he was essentially paralyzed on the left side. It’s a much better recovery than I anticipated.” He attributed it to Earl’s perseverance and ongoing physical therapy Chris thought Dr. Loos deserved some credit, too. “The doctor’s explanation of [the clot-busting drug] TPA allowed me and my stepson to make what we believe was a coherent decision in the midst of ‘all’. I truly believe that those first hours set the course for my husband’s recovery.”