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Published on February 12, 2020

Dawn Schmidt with Sherry Foust

Swing bed care aids Whitehall woman's stroke recovery

Dawn Schmidt had just finished a card game with friends Jan. 12, 2019, when an unsettling but familiar feeling set in.

"I became disoriented," she says. "I thought, 'Oh man. I may be having another stroke.'"

Six years earlier, Dawn knew something was gravely wrong when she couldn't connect her thoughts. She told her son to get her to a hospital. By the time they arrived, she was slipping into unconsciousness.

Surgeons stopped the bleeding in her brain and life returned to normal for Dawn.

But when that same disorientating sensation returned, Dawn knew she was experiencing a second stroke. Doctors confirmed it with a computerized tomography (CT) scan and rushed Dawn, 67, into surgery to halt the bleeding in her brain.

"It was life or death for a while there," she says. "I had to believe God had me in his hands. He had all the right people in all the right places, and he was orchestrating everything."

Dawn spent a week in intensive care at Gundersen La Crosse Hospital before transferring to Gundersen Tri-County Hospital in Whitehall for Swing Bed, care designed for medically stable patients who no longer require hospitalization but are not ready to return home.

"At first, I was in critical condition because I was in so much pain from the surgery and all the stitches," Dawn says. "I was just trying to get myself oriented."

For two months, a multidisciplinary team worked with Dawn to replace what the stroke took, says Mark Zellmer, PA, who coordinated her care.

"I had to retrain my brain," Dawn says. "I had to learn how to do the simplest things I've done all my life."

Speech-language pathologist Sherry Foust, CCC-SLP, focused on re-establishing Dawn's speaking, reading and writing abilities.

"Recommendations I made in therapy were carried out by the interdisciplinary team on a daily basis," Sherry says. "Nursing staff set Dawn up with activities that were meant to incrementally re-introduce skills at a level that was not overwhelming while offering Dawn success."

Dawn learned to walk again with the help of physical therapists guiding her through exercises that improved her balance and strength. The stroke altered her visual field, altering her life. Occupational therapist Amanda Janke, MS, OTR, helped Dawn master visual tracking exercises and the skills she would need to return home.

"That was all a learning process. I couldn't do much at first," Dawn says. "I would look at a utensil and know what it was but not know what to do with it."

Therapists credit Dawn's recovery to her powerful motivation, whereas Dawn says it was a blend of determination and teamwork offered by supportive providers with expertise.

"They were all instrumental in my recovery," Dawn says. "They would tell me, 'Look how far you've come. Look where you are now.' Everyone was trying their best to get me home where I belonged."

In spring, Dawn achieved her goal to return to her house in Whitehall, where she embraces a new normal with adaptations from the lasting effects of the stroke. She's regained the skills necessary for independent living, including cooking, reading and walking.

"I'm a blessed person. I have a lot to be grateful for," she says.

Until she could return home, Dawn was comforted by the availability of Swing Bed care in her community and the convenience it offered family and friends.

"The local availability of these services was very important to her being able to go home," Mark says. "This allowed her family to participate in her care and encourage her along the way, supporting her return home."

To learn more about Gundersen Tri-County Swing Bed care, call (715) 538-2403.

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