Thankful for Every Morning

February 21, 2024

a man and a woman sit at a table smiling

Shirley Stocker couldn’t breathe. It was a Thursday morning in May 2022, and before the day’s end, Shirley would be hospitalized, diagnosed with COVID-19 and on a ventilator.

Three days later, things got worse.

“They noticed she had slurred speech and they were putting her on a stroke protocol,” said her husband, Dale. “That night, they said they needed to operate or she would die.”

Diagnosed with a cerebral stroke, Shirley was rushed into surgery where a portion of her skull was removed to relieve the pressure on her brain. COVID-19 restrictions prevented visitors. For the following 12 days, all her family could do was comfort Dale at the couple’s cozy Bethlehem home.

“It was extremely difficult,” Dale said. “Although we were getting updates constantly from her medical team, just not being able to see her was horrible.”

‘Be Myself Again’

Shirley made it through the three-hour surgery, but the stroke left the lively and talkative 78-year-old retired health-care supervisor and busy grandmother weak and with aphasia, a disorder that impacts how a person speaks or understands language.

So began a journey of recovery Shirley describes as “a miracle,” with expert help from a variety of interdisciplinary rehabilitation teams — first at Good Shepherd Rehabilitation Hospital, and then with Good Shepherd’s outpatient teams in Allentown and Bethlehem Township.

Shirley spent a little over two weeks in the acute-care hospital. When it was time to be discharged to inpatient stroke rehabilitation, Shirley and Dale chose Good Shepherd Rehabilitation Hospital.

“We’ve known people through the years who used Good Shepherd and it has a great reputation,” Shirley said.

“It wasn’t a hard decision to send her there,” added Dale.

Shirley doesn’t remember much about her stay at Good Shepherd Rehabilitation Hospital, but she does remember the compassion and expertise she encountered.

“They were exceptional,” she said. “They didn’t push. The major thing was getting me to slow down. My goal was to be myself again.”

Independence Returns

After three weeks of inpatient rehabilitation, Shirley was discharged to Good Shepherd Rehabilitation’s outpatient services. She began a robust schedule — three times a week — of physical, occupational, vision and speech therapies to address cognitive and speech deficits.

“I had a lot to learn, so they gave me exercises to work on associating words with talking so the right words come out,” Shirley said.

A pre-existing case of shingles in her left eye, in addition to her stroke, profoundly affected Shirley’s ability to read, a lifelong passion she was eager to resume.

“After the stroke, the words all ran together,” she said. “All the therapies they did not only helped with the shingles, but I was able to separate words and read each line distinctively. The therapists were excellent.”

A seminal and tearful moment in her recovery occurred the day Shirley stood and walked with a walker.

“It was really a miracle when I stood on my own two feet and moved forward,” she said. “It was a huge moment for me. I’ll never, ever forget that.”

Going up and down stairs was another major accomplishment for Shirley.

“I have been able to do that a number of times in different places,” she said.

Laughing and Solving the World’s Problems

Shirley spent more than four months in outpatient therapy at Allentown before transitioning to a site closer to home – Good Shepherd Rehabilitation in Bethlehem Township. Her goal was to rely less on her walker and gain greater confidence in walking with a cane on level and uneven surfaces.

“When Shirley came to us, she was very dependent on her walker,” said Physical Therapist Assistant Christine Gahman, PTA. “But Shirley was highly motivated. Her mindset was, ‘I’m going to do this.’ And she had a great support system with her husband, who came to every appointment with her and was willing to learn from us.”

After 10 months of physical therapy, Shirley’s strength, endurance and balance improved significantly. With that, her independence blossomed even more.

“They taught me so many different things to be able to live on my own,” Shirley said. “I’m very independent now. I’m able to make dinner again, and Dale and I go out to dinner every week with our neighbors. We laugh a lot, and we solve the world’s problems.”

Shirley hopes to resume driving to achieve that last piece of independence.

A ‘Wonderful Partner’ and Family Support

Shirley completed outpatient therapy and feels blessed to do the things she once took for granted: getting up and dressed in the morning, brushing her teeth and getting on with her day. Dale showed her how to play word and number games on her computer tablet to keep her mind sharp.

“That’s been phenomenal,” she said. “Thank God I have such a wonderful partner in Dale.”

The loss of her 59-year-old son, John, to cancer in October 2023 was a devastating blow to Shirley and Dale. She is grateful to Good Shepherd for her recovery, which gave her the strength to care for John in the family home for six weeks prior to his passing.

“God gave me a present,” she said. “I was able to cook for him and wash his clothes.”

“I’ve learned to take time to smell the roses. Everything is something to look forward to.”

The love and support from her husband of 45 years, her children and grandchildren buoyed Shirley’s spirits and helped in her recovery.

“Your family is what really helps you get through,” she said. “I’m a big advocate for family.”

Life is a bit slower for Shirley, but she greets every dawn with gratitude and joy.

“I can’t do two or three things at one time anymore; my brain won’t allow that,” Shirley said. “But, I’ve learned to take time to smell the roses. Everything is something to look forward to. I can’t thank Good Shepherd enough.”

For more information about Good Shepherd’s comprehensive stroke rehabilitation services, call 1.888.44.REHAB or contact us.