A State of Hope
With the support of their doctors and therapists, five locals beat the odds and overcome bleak diagnoses.
It’s on our flag, our street signs, our restaurants and our storefronts. But hope can also be found in a more private place: in the waiting rooms of our doctors’ offices and hospitals. From brain tumor victims like Mauricette Collier to couples battling infertility like Kristen and Daniel Darosa, patients in our little state can place all hope in the hands of their doctors and therapists, knowing they’ll fight, with reflex hammer and scalpel, to bring them back to health.
Like so many Americans, Amy Liguori — a veteran of the lingerie industry in New York City — was unfashionably out of work in December 2008. For the first time, she found herself making real sacrifices. “Things had to change,” she says, “and they certainly did.”
That change came the following May while Amy was visiting her friend, Rosie, in Pennsylvania. “I wasn’t feeling well, I remember being foggy,” she says. She recalls moments throughout the morning when she felt as if her brain wasn’t connecting to her left arm, but she didn’t think anything of it. “I thought it was from being, well, hungover.”
But a mighty hangover it wasn’t. While they were out to lunch, Amy burst into tears, but couldn’t express what was wrong. Rosie, a nurse, noticed that Amy’s arm had gone limp and rushed her to a nearby hospital in six minutes flat. Within a half-hour, Amy was in surgery to treat two ruptured arteriovenous malformations — a group of malformed blood vessels that hemorrhaged, causing her to stroke.
Forty-two years old and a survivor of a massive stroke, Amy already beat the odds. But she still had to go through extensive rehabilitation, including speech, physical and occupational therapy at Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital in Boston and Pendleton Health and Rehabilitation Center in Mystic, Connecticut.
In August 2009, Amy returned to her hometown of Westerly to live with her sister, Kate. “I was in outpatient therapy at Westerly Hospital and I was coming along, but I needed more. I still couldn’t lift my right foot up. I needed something supplementary to get me over that hump.”
Amy says an electronic leg cuff that stimulates the nerves and muscles, called the Bioness NESS L300, was the first tool to propel her forward. By using the device, Amy says she was able to graduate to a higher form of freedom, which brought along the desire to regain physical independence.
For more than a year now, Amy has been working on achieving that goal with Jan Chamberlain of First Physical Therapy in Westerly. When they first met, Amy was walking with a wide-based stance, her right arm and leg put off to the side as a balancing mechanism. At the time, she was still reliant on the NESS L300 and would land flat-footed, buckle mid-stance and hyperextend with push-off. “Working with the stimulator allowed her not to trip or buckle, but when she landed flat-footed, her right knee would turn inward and shimmy,” Chamberlain says.
Amy has gone through a series of rigorous exercises to get her gait, or stride, back to normal. Chamberlain says Amy no longer relies on the NESS L300 for general movement, and is now walking with an improved gait, a normalized base of support and a normal step length. “You have no idea how much a patient will progress,” Chamberlain says. “And there’s usually an end, but after a year, she still hasn’t reached it. So we’ll keep going.”
Amy is also making strides down other avenues of life. She’s driving again, and is living alone for the first time since her stroke. Although her speech is slow, Amy communicates more clearly than most through near-perfect pronunciation, sharp intellect and deep, spirited eyes.
Amy sacrificed a great deal over the past four years: dinner parties, yoga boot camp, a bustling New York City lifestyle. But the stroke awarded her great insight into her own resilient spirit and into the plight of the disabled woman.
With her experience in the lingerie industry, Amy is working on a bra extender that will help women with disabilities fasten their bras one-handed. “Sometimes, living with a stroke is like being in traffic without being able to make an exit,” she says. “But you owe it to yourself to get as functional as possible….I’d like to help other people get there, too.”