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Remarkable Recoveries: Valerie

An accomplished vocalist overcomes the challenges of a stroke and returns to pursuing her passions.

An accomplished vocalist overcomes the challenges of a stroke and returns to pursuing her passions.

When Valerie, 42, woke up to her alarm on a Wednesday morning in June of 2014, she turned to look at the clock and felt a sudden, sharp pain on either side of her neck. Thinking that perhaps she had just slept wrong, she went about her regular daily activities for the next several days. Despite the nagging pain, Valerie met with clients and appeared in court for her job as a lawyer. She did yard work at her home in Stoneham, and continued to sing daily in preparation for an upcoming trip to Italy where she was to perform with the Berklee College of Music as part of the Umbria Jazz Clinics.

By Sunday, however, Valerie’s pain had increased tremendously, she was fatigued and noticed that she was moving stiffly during a rehearsal. She woke up from a nap to the sobering discovery that she was seeing double and unable to move the left side of her body.

After being evaluated at the hospital, Valerie was told that she had experienced a brain stem stroke caused by a rare condition called Vertebral Artery Dissection. When she had turned her head to look at the alarm earlier that week, she had torn arteries on the sides of her neck which led to her brain causing the stroke. She would spend a week in the acute care hospital before being transferred to Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital.

“When they said I’d be going to Spaulding, I said, yes, please bring me there!” recalled Valerie. She knew of Spaulding’s reputation and had followed their care of the Boston Marathon survivors in 2013. “When I arrived at Spaulding, they started my rehab right away.”

Valerie’s comprehensive rehabilitation treatment team included physical, occupational, speech and music therapy. “Val was determined right from the beginning,” said Alex, her physical therapist. “She wanted to do everything she could to get back to where she was prior to the stroke.”

Through her physical therapy, Alex worked with Valerie to regain strength on the left side of her body, as well as to combat the other effects of the stroke including vertigo, spasms and discomfort in her neck, and balance challenges. “We worked a lot on balance in order to help her gain more independence with standing, walking and climbing stairs,” said Alex. Valerie also utilized a cane and leg brace for additional support.

Given her passion for music, one of the most devastating side effects of the stroke was the loss of her voice. A lifelong singer and musician – Valerie sang as a featured vocalist for the late Boston jazz legend Al Vega for many years performing throughout the Boston area and has performed internationally as a soloist. In addition to singing, Valerie plays the piano, and violin. Knowing her background, Valerie’s therapists ensured that music was incorporated into her therapy. She worked with her music therapist, Brian and began to sing again, as well as with her speech language pathologist Carla on some breathing techniques to assist her as she regained strength in her voice.

“Even though my voice was far from what it was, it was so important to me to get that back, and my therapists were so supportive of that goal,” said Valerie. She sang nearly every day while at Spaulding and even performed karaoke for some of the other patients.

After a month of intensive therapy, Valerie was discharged back home to her husband Mark and continued her therapy through Spaulding’s Medford Outpatient Services for the next year. In June of 2015, Valerie graced the stage once more at local Somerville venue Johnny D’s for her first performance in over a year. It would be the first of many more to come. “I am grateful everyday for all that I have as I know now that it can all be taken away in an instant,” said Valerie. “Spaulding changed my life – they brought me from zero back to 100%.”

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