Charlie Zeiter - Farwell, MI
"While Charlie still isn’t completely independent, he was able to get out on the slopes a few times this winter. That’s huge." Martha Zeiter
Ski Coach Rebuilds After Stroke and Meets Goal of Getting Back on the Slopes
As Charlie Zeiter of Farwell skied and coached his high school team for 48 years, the sport that was his passion also kept him active and healthy. Then last year, he had a stroke. To start rebuilding his abilities, he and his wife, Martha, turned to the RehabCentre at MidMichigan Medical Center - Gratiot.
"Charlie's stroke was completely out of the blue," Martha said. "He was as healthy as you could get, with no history or any common risk factors, and it still happened. No one who knows him could believe it."
The stroke took away Charlie's ability to speak and to use his right arm and right leg. A few hours after it occurred, Martha found him at home and called an ambulance. Once his condition was stabilized at MidMichigan Medical Center - Clare, he was transferred to MidMichigan Medical Center - Midland.
"In Midland, they were mostly trying to figure out the cause of the stroke," Martha said. "An echocardiogram identified two congenital heart defects that might have contributed. There was a small hole in the wall that separates the two top chambers of his heart, of which he had been completely unaware. Charlie's legs were checked for signs of previous clots, and his aorta was monitored out of concern for an aneurysm."
After the cause of his stroke was determined, Charlie's occupational and speech therapy began right away. Four days later, he was transferred to the RehabCentre for in-patient therapy.
"We arrived at mealtime on Saturday and they were ready for him," Martha said. "Everyone was very supportive and friendly and wanted to get to know us."
Martha recalled both of them feeling pretty low, but was especially glad to find out that she could stay with Charlie day and night, as much as she wanted. "This situation was quite depressing for someone who has never had any health issues, ever," she said. "You don't know what's going to happen, and they can't tell you. No one can predict how much mobility or speech someone is going to regain."
On Monday, therapy began. Charlie was used to hard work, and his therapists had him try to do everything he could. "There was a glimmer of hope that he was already improving," Martha said. "As the weeks progressed, it was a big thing to be able to stand and use the walker and to move somewhat on his own."
Therapists used electrical stimulation on Charlie's arm and leg to get muscles firing and regain function in affected nerves. In the therapy room he exercised on a NuStep® bike. He practiced walking using two rails in the therapy room, a handrail along the halls or a walker.
Patients work hard at therapy, and most do better without the distraction of visitors. Charlie, however, was different.
"After the first week, therapists noticed that he tried to show off for visitors," said Martha. "After that, they suggested having a friend or family member there. Word spread pretty quickly to people he taught with, his students, family and friends. Most of the people we are close with are in the Mt. Pleasant area, so being able to go to Alma was a big benefit."
While at the RehabCentre for 33 days, Charlie went from not being able to get any sounds out of his mouth, to getting some sounds out, to saying 'yes' and 'no' and having occasional words come out clearly. He went from having no movement in his legs, to moving his toes, to standing and supporting his own weight, to walking with a walker. His arm was still paralyzed, but he had more strength in his shoulder.
"That was about a year ago," Martha said. "As we've continued to work, Charlie has continued to get better."
Charlie and Martha met their big goal, which was for him to ski again. "We go to all the ski meets and he's been able to help with the teams. Kids and adults appreciate having his experience." And while he still isn't completely independent, Charlie was able to get out on the slopes a few times this winter. "That's huge," she said.
"We would like to tell people working to regain their abilities after a stroke to keep at it," Martha said. "Improvements are possible even years down the road."
The RehabCentre at MidMichigan Medical Center - Gratiot is a hospital-based unit specializing in intensive physical, occupational, recreational and speech therapy. Patients receive a minimum of three hours of therapy each day, along with 24-hour nursing and physician care. Those who would like more information on the RehabCentre may visit www.midmichigan.org/rehabcentre.