Stroke Victim Beats the Odds with Expert Care at Good Shepherd

As a mother of two who worked two jobs including one on the night shift, 42-year-old Sandy Sonsteby of Sellersville led a hectic life. But she still managed to take time to stay fit by working out at a gym. Facing a life-threatening illness was the last thing on her mind in February 2014 when she headed off to her job as a hair dresser. She attributed an odd headache behind one eye to a possible sinus infection.

While cutting a customer’s hair, she began to feel faint, so she asked the customer if she could take a short break. That was the last thing Sandy remembers before waking up weeks later in the brain injury unit of Good Shepherd Rehabilitation Hospital in Allentown.

Sandy had suffered a hemorrhagic stroke, the result of a ruptured aneurysm in her brain. While much less common than an ischemic stroke (caused by a blood clot), these types of stroke more often result in death. But today Sandy shows few signs of the devastating stroke that put her in a coma for weeks and left her almost completely incapacitated on her left side. She had to re-learn how to eat, use her arms and hands and walk again. In addition to her physical symptoms, Sandy had difficulty with cognition and memory.

“I had no sense of real time,” says Sandy. “I remember telling my sister I was 22 years old. Everything had to be written down for me so I could recall what I had done that day.”

Husband Erik prepared their home for Sandy’s eventual discharge by installing grab bars throughout the home, a shower seat and other assistive devices. But when Sandy was discharged in April, she was able to walk out the door using just a cane, making more rapid progress than many had predicted.

Sandy and Erik attribute her miraculous recovery to having the right people there at the right time, from the paramedics who recognized she had experienced a stroke, to the neurosurgeon who performed a life-saving craniotomy to relieve brain swelling, to the expert physicians and clinicians at Good Shepherd, including SuAnn Chen, M.D., a physical medicine and rehabilitation physician who specializes in brain injury and stroke rehabilitation.

“I really liked Dr. Chen’s approach,” says Sandy. “She was willing to step outside of the box and try different things.”

“The therapy staff was terrific as well,” she says. “They really push you. It’s tough love, but they understood when I had had enough and needed to rest or stop.”

Following discharge from the rehabilitation hospital, Sandy continued to come to outpatient physical, occupational and cognitive therapy three days a week in Allentown. She set a goal of returning to her job in a distribution hub at UPS in July. 

“Dr. Chen worked with me to achieve this goal,” says Sandy. “She spoke to my boss and communicated ground rules for my return.” Several weeks later Sandy also was able to return to the hair salon a few hours a week.

“Going back to work was an emotional boost to me,” says Sandy. “But if I’ve learned anything from this experience, it is that money isn’t everything. So while I am back to work, I know that I have to limit my hours to stay healthy. Being happy is my priority.”

For more information on Good Shepherd's programs and services, call 1-888-44-REHAB (73422) or contact us.