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Recovering from stroke: A lesson taught by survivors

Posted July 10, 2014

It was 4:30 a.m., Oct. 29, 2009. Laura Millward woke up with a horrible headache, nausea and vomiting.

“My husband said ‘are you ok?’ I said ‘no’… something is wrong,” recalled the Meridian homemaker and mother of four children.

The right side of Laura’s face was paralyzed, her speech slurred. She was rushed to the hospital where doctors determined she’d suffered a brain aneurysm and stroke.
From left, Tony and Laura Millward with Mark and Val Asumendi.Seventeen months earlier, Val Asumendi was driving home to Wilder, Idaho after vacationing in Montana. The former ultrasound technician remembers blacking out, then nothing.

“I knew my wife was in big trouble,” said husband, Mark, who was able to steer the car to safety. Val, who was having a stroke, was flown by air ambulance to a Boise hospital.

Both women and their husbands shared their stories recently with students in the Master of Physician Assistant Studies Program at Idaho State University campuses in Meridian and Pocatello.

Clinical Associate Professor David Talford wanted the students to hear firsthand from stroke survivors before beginning course studies on neurology and the brain.

Students listened intently as the women explained the challenges and frustrations of learning to walk, talk and perform basic tasks all over again.

Laura, pausing at times to search for the right word, chronicled her condition and recovery in a PowerPoint presentation projected on a large screen.

Both women say their memories are strong and they have no problem acquiring new information, but they do have difficulty verbalizing their thoughts.

“My brain is good, but I can’t talk good,” said Val with a wide smile.

Their husbands stood next to them to help express their thoughts. “Life is still good for us,” said Laura’s husband, Tony, who notes his wife is as driven today as she was before the stroke.

A physician assistant himself, Tony says his wife’s experience has made him more empathetic when dealing with patients and spouses who’ve experienced tragedy or illness. And that’s a lesson that resonated with ISU-Meridian physician assistant studies student Heather Grote.

“Both ladies displayed positive and grateful attitudes toward life, which I believe allowed them to celebrate small victories — milestones that as a physician assistant, I will be able to give my patients praise and hope for,” she said.

Laura, 47, and Val, 58, met while attending ISU-Meridian’s aphasia group offered through the Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders. They’re grateful for the group’s speech-language services and praise its leader Beth Guryan, an ISU speech language pathologist.

Just as important, the two women have forged a friendship—one that grows stronger as they continue their journey toward recovery.