A stroke survivor continues making progress

Summer flu is always surprising, and forklift operator Mark Davis, 42, figured he was among the unlucky few last June when he began experiencing flu-like symptoms - cough, fatigue, diarrhea, fever and painful joints. "That's what made me come into the hospital emergency department," Mark said. He was admitted on June 29 and, it turned out, Mark had a serious staph infection.

"There were a lot of doctors looking at him because his kidneys were failing," said Angela Davis, Mark's wife. "They were trying to figure out which staph infection he had." Nine days after he was admitted, Mark had a stroke in his room at St. Luke's.

"The staph infection went to my heart. And the valve in the heart ended up breaking up and causing the blood clot that went to my brain. That's what caused the stroke," Mark said.

"To be honest, when he went in for the infection, I never imagined getting a call that he had a stroke. Although, they did say he had a very, very minor stroke on June 30," Angela said. "He was having trouble with his hand and I think his speech was a little off, but you could still understand him. So I suppose in that case, we should've known it could happen."

"The type of stroke Mark had is not common," said Dr. Craig Dove, medical director for St. Luke's Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation. "It was from an infection that formed in his heart." The infection was caused by methicillin-sensitive staphylococcus aureus (MSSA), a type of bacteria that is very common in the environment and normally found on the skin, sometimes in the inner nose. It can cause minor skin infections, but it can also cause life-threatening infections.

Mark's infection began in his joints and moved to his heart. "Embolic strokes, which are caused by blood clots, are typically associated with atrial fibrillation," Dr. Dove said, however, in Mark's case, the embolic stroke was caused by hemorrhages resulting from his infection. "A shower of infectious emboli (blood clots) went from his heart to the brain," Dr. Dove explained.

On July 8, Mark had a major stroke that damaged his heart valve and impaired the left side of his body and his mental function. Mark underwent surgery to remove the clots from his brain. Later he had surgery to replace the damaged heart valve. During this time, Taryn and Dakota, the Davis' 11-year-old twins, spent a majority of their summer visiting their dad in the hospital.

Three weeks following his heart valve surgery, Mark was admitted to UnityPoint Health Living Centers. He was weak from the surgeries and impaired by the stroke, and wasn't strong enough for the intensive inpatient rehabilitation at St. Luke's.

"Sometimes patients are too ill to be able to do three hours of therapy a day," explained Dr. Dove. "Living Centers provides skilled nursing along with nurse practitioners or hospitalists who see patients daily. It offers closer medical supervision than many other skilled nursing facilities."

Patients have to be ready the day they are admitted to inpatient rehabilitation to endure strenuous physical, occupational and speech therapy. Mark worked with Living Centers' physical, occupational and speech therapists for nearly a month to build up the endurance he needed.

"At Living Centers we all work hard to help the patient achieve a higher level of functioning to enable them to go home or to strengthen them enough, as in Mark's case, to transfer to acute rehabilitation to receive an even higher level of therapy," said Elizabeth Eichhorn, nurse practitioner, Living Centers. "Since we are a UnityPoint Health facility, we are able to coordinate care with St. Luke's Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, UnityPoint Home Medical Equipment and UnityPoint Home Care."

St. Luke's inpatient rehabilitation, in addition to physical, occupational and speech therapy, provides recreation therapists, physiatrists, medical psychologists, neuropsychologists and nurses who specialize in rehabilitation. "I started with a walker at Living Centers. And I got stronger with it there. Then I got away from the walker right away at St. Luke's and started using a cane," he said. "I was trying to get my arm working. It's been slow to react. So I used what they call a skateboard and pushed it left to right."

"When he came back to St. Luke's, he still had significant weakness on his left side, including his face. His upper extremities were more affected than his lower extremities," said Dr. Dove. Within three weeks, Mark was dressing himself and moving around better. He was released to St. Luke's outpatient therapy, which he continues doing twice a week. "He has made significant improvements from a function standpoint," said Dr. Dove.

"It's been tough for Angela to run the kids and go to work and manage it all," Mark said. "Now that I'm home, it seems better for the kids. I think they see the progress." The Davis family is now getting out, going to dinner and doing some of the activities they enjoy. "I'm just trying to get more independent. Trying to get my arm working and to walk better. I'm trying to improve my visual scanning. Eventually I hope I can drive again," Mark said.

"It wasn't the summer that we wanted or that we ever thought we were going to have, and you know, I'm ready to get to a different year," Angela said.

To take a personal tour of St. Luke's Living Centers, call 319/366-8714.