After suffering a stroke on his left side the day before Thanksgiving last year, Gary Perkins and his wife Jane knew he had a long recovery ahead of him. With the help of many Mercy therapists, including Julie Dominik in Mercy Driver Rehabilitation, Gary is on the road again and gradually returning to the activities he loves.
When Jane Perkins came home from last-minute grocery shopping for Thanksgiving dinner, she thought her husband, Gary Perkins, was playing a trick on her.
“He tried to get up from a chair in the living room and almost fell,” says Jane. “He’s always been a joker, so I told him to stop fooling around.”
But Gary wasn’t fooling around. Without realizing it, he had suffered a stroke, leaving his left arm and leg very weak. It was November 23, 2016, the day before Thanksgiving and his birthday.
He says, “I remember noticing my arm felt funny that morning, but it seemed to get a little better as the day went along. I ran errands and took a nap. But when I attempted to stand, I could not put any weight on my left leg. That’s when we called 911.”
The Jackson Township Fire Department brought Gary to Mercy’s emergency department. He was admitted and eventually transferred to Mercy Regional Rehabilitation Center, where he stayed until December 22.
From Ambulance to Outpatient, Mercy Helps Restore Abilities
Gary, who is left-handed, was initially unable to swallow, and the weakness in his left arm and leg (left hemiparesis) caused by the stroke meant he needed the assistance of two people to bear weight even to stand. Gary underwent therapy daily, and his regimen included physical, occupational, and speech. While he continued to recover, Jane arranged for small changes to their ranch home in Jackson Township.
“Gary had some outstanding therapists during inpatient rehab, and they shared a lot of education and recommendations with us,” says Jane, “We took all of those recommendations seriously and have taken safety measures throughout the house.”
Since going home before Christmas last year, Gary has continued with outpatient therapy and homecare. The couple praises the work of the therapists, especially Becky Williams, Chris Pasiuk, Cindy Kurzen, and Buffy Phillips.
“From ambulance to outpatient, we’ve had a good experience at Mercy,” says Gary, who’s been happy to gradually return to walking with a walker and a cane, self-care, social activities, and even certain aspects of gardening and lawn care. Gary, the retired owner of Perk’s Tavern (once located in southeast Canton near the Marathon refinery), and Jane, a retiree of Canton City Schools and Stark State College, are looking forward to celebrating 43 years of marriage later in 2017 with their two grown children and four grandsons.
Mercy Driver Rehab Is Last Major Step Toward Recovery
“Recovery, of course, is never fast enough,” Gary says. The good news is that, in terms of major steps toward recovery, he has already reached the end of the road: driver rehabilitation. It required a thorough evaluation through Mercy Driver Rehabilitation with Julie Dominik, a clinical specialist in occupational therapy, certified driver rehabilitation specialist, and licensed Ohio driving instructor for people with disabilities. Gary again has the green light to get behind the wheel for short drives during daylight hours, such as going out to eat and shopping. He hopes to regain the ability to drive for longer periods at any time of the day or night in the future.
According to Julie, it’s about helping qualified patients access the community on their own again. “Driver rehab is an important piece of the recovery process for those who are eligible,” Julie says. “As a therapist, I have to answer the question, ‘Can they operate a motor vehicle safely?’ In order to do that, I have to assess many aspects of driving—most of them before spending actual time on the road.”
Patients who undergo driver rehabilitation at Mercy are tested on simulated reaction time, distance vision, perception, cognition, and knowledge of road rules and signs. They also must pass a physical assessment and, using Mercy’s driver training vehicle, an in-car driving assessment. Mercy’s program is one of only about 15 accredited programs in Ohio. Of that number, Mercy is one of just a few to offer driver training for people with disabilities.
One of Julie’s specialties as a therapist is evaluation for functional community mobility skills, which includes not only driving, but also getting around on foot, on a bicycle, and using other modes of transportation. She is part of Stark County Safe Communities Task Force, including its Fatal Crash Review Committee, and is on an Ohio Department of Transportation committee that focuses on older road users.
“Driver rehab has become a very important issue and a growing need in recent years,” says Julie. “That’s because fatalities are on the rise locally and across the United States. Although we have some alternative transportation options in Stark County, there are 27 other counties that currently don’t. So, knowing patients like Gary can return to driving safely is crucial.”