Finding the Music of Life Again

February 29, 2024

a woman is sitting in front of a piano, smiling for the camera.

Music has always been Jean Anne Shafferman’s life and passion. As a print music publishing editor and producer. Singing in and directing her church choir. Playing the piano.

But life’s melody turned harshly discordant when the 70-year-old from Easton, Pennsylvania, had an ischemic stroke in late September 2023, paralyzing her right side.

Determined to regain her independence, and with seamless rehabilitation from inpatient to outpatient, Jean Anne has done just that.

“I wanted to get back to where I was before my stroke, and I am,” she said.

‘I was gone’

Jean Anne was 310 miles from home in Virginia touring potential colleges with her granddaughter and daughter when she had her stroke. They had just pulled into the parking deck of a Richmond hotel when Jean Anne complained of a terrible headache, collapsed and lapsed into a state of semi-consciousness.

“I was gone,” she said.

Her daughter, Emilie Boggis, dialed 911, and Jean Anne was rushed to the emergency room. In the hospital, Jean Anne couldn’t do anything for herself — something Jean Anne was not accustomed to. She weathered the stress of caring for — and the subsequent loss in 2020 – of her husband, who had dementia. And she survived a nearly 11-year battle with leukemia. Now, the woman who prided herself on strong self-reliance and an active lifestyle that included working out up to seven days a week was forced to relinquish control. She was only too willing to do that.

“I always had to be in charge of things,” she said, “and I was so delighted not to be in charge of any of this. I did everything my family and my medical team told me to do.”

Jean Anne doesn’t recall much about her stay in the intensive care unit, but she does remember the incredible support from extended family who flew in from Ohio and Kentucky to be by her side. She also remembers a moment when her daughter leaned over her bed and whispered, “‘Mom, if dad is telling you to come to him, it’s OK to go.’ I woke up and looked at her and said, ‘It’s not my time yet.’”

After four days in the ICU, Jean Anne stabilized enough to be discharged to inpatient rehabilitation close to home in the Lehigh Valley. In Bethlehem, her sister, Emilie Heesen, lost no time researching facilities. One stood out with a track record of excellence in stroke care and recovery: Good Shepherd Rehabilitation Hospital in Center Valley.

Journey to Center Valley

“Everyone in my retired teacher network was saying that Good Shepherd is the place to go if you know anyone who’s had a stroke,” Emilie said. “I went online looking, and because Good Shepherd had just recently opened their state-of-the-art facility in July, the decision was made. It’s in a beautiful location central for our family members who have to travel, and I also liked the fact that Good Shepherd has a network of outpatient services.”

Emilie Heesen (left) with her sister Jean Ann

Working with Rachel Peck, Good Shepherd’s admissions liaison, Emilie arranged for Jean Anne to be admitted.

“[Rachel] was a godsend. I can’t sing her praises enough,” Emilie said. “She was such an advocate for our family.”

With her daughter driving and her sister-in-law, Nancy, keeping a close eye on Jean Anne, the three women made it safely to Good Shepherd Rehabilitation Hospital, where Jean Anne was admitted.

“From the very moment she arrived, everyone at Good Shepherd was ready for her,” Emilie said. “We all breathed a sigh of relief because we knew she was in the right place. We went home and slept well.”

The next day, Jean Anne began physical and occupational therapies to address balance, double vision, and strength and coordination problems in her right hand and arm.

From the treadmill to the shopping cart

Luckily, her care team noted, Jean Anne’s stroke was on the mild side. The team focused on things that would prevent Jean Anne from going home. Walking on a treadmill at an incline and ever-increasing speeds helped build Jean Anne’s strength, balance and endurance. Simulated grocery shopping exercises on the unit improved Jean Anne’s strength, visual scanning, higher level cognition and right-hand coordination.

Working off a printed shopping list, Jean Anne pushed a shopping cart, one of two donated by Giant Food, with 40-pound weights, to a large grocery cabinet, where she pulled items off the shelves and put them in the cart. Another exercise had Jean Anne doing squats with a laundry basket before and after she filled it with laundry. Jean Anne even had access to an electric piano, which she played to the delight of staff and patients alike.

Jean Anne’s strong motivation to regain her full independence was a powerful asset in her recovery.

“The hardest thing was getting her to slow down,” said Sarah Jasinski, OTR-L, CSRS, an inpatient occupational therapist. “She had a wonderful attitude. She focused on doing her best in therapy, not on her struggles, and on getting back to life.”

Taking life a bit slower

In a week, Jean Anne had progressed enough to be discharged to Good Shepherd Rehabilitation’s outpatient site in Palmer Township. When Jean Anne left Good Shepherd Rehabilitation Hospital, she could walk without assistance and had no double vision.

Jean Anne now has gone from two days of outpatient therapy to one.

“My [outpatient] therapists are so ambitious for me and push me because they know I want to be challenged, but they also care for me — all of me,” she said.

Jean Anne is gradually resuming her normal activities: driving, singing in the Bach Choir of Bethlehem, working out in the gym and participating in the senior fellowship group at her church.

And, she has learned the importance of taking life a bit slower. She frequents the Easton Library and loves curling up with a good book. Afternoon naps are also a time for her body and mind to be restored.

“I have to give my body time to build new neural pathways, which it does when I sleep,” Jean Anne said. “I was not a nap person, but I am now. Good Shepherd taught me so much and continues to teach me. Everyone there has played a remarkable role in my journey toward recovery, reassuring me and providing a path forward. I’m just happy to be living.”