From stroke to soccer: How a love of the sport helped in recovery

A stroke left Poughkeepsie resident Steve Johnson’s body limp. But his love of soccer and weeks of rehabilitation helped him regain strength and return home a new man.

“I never knew this could happen — I was an active person,” he said about his stroke. “Afterward, my entire left side was not functioning.”

Steve’s stroke on July 30 led to a month-long recovery at Vassar Brothers Medical Center. The clot in his brain did a lot of damage. The 52-year-old couldn’t walk, lift his arm or sit up when he arrived to Northern Dutchess Hospital’s inpatient rehabilitation unit on Aug. 24.

When the rehab department’s physical therapist, Carolyn Mayer, met her new patient, she asked him what he liked to do for fun. His answer excited her.

“When he said soccer, I knew exactly how to help him,” said Carolyn, who plays recreational soccer. But she couldn’t help him without thinking a little outside the box.

To support Steve’s athletic frame, eliminate his risk of falling and help him regain strength, Carolyn used a type of mobility harness that attaches to an overhead track. The recently acquired equipment allows therapists to advance care for the patients who require a high level of rehabilitation after strokes, major orthopedic surgeries, traumas and more.

For the next several weeks, Steve spent hours belted into the support system in the rehabilitation gym.

“For me to guard Steve and help him walk, there is a lot going on. Sometimes, I’m keeping his balance, or holding him up. I’m moving his foot or locking his knee,” Carolyn said.

The harness meant Carolyn and Steve could “walk and walk and walk,” she said.

Steve spent five weeks at Northern Dutchess Hospital. He learned to kick, trap and even juggle the soccer ball again. As fall approached, he was excited to go home to his family and take a walk around his block.

“If you are looking for sympathy, Northern Dutchess is not the right place for you,” he said. “But if you are looking for compassion, mobility and motivation, this is the right place.”

The $16,000 mobility harness system was purchased this year with a donation made by a grateful rehabilitation patient. The donor wanted to help others who turn to the hospital after a stroke. The harness is used daily and has helped dozens of people.

“He would be thrilled to know how much his donation is helping others,” said Dawn Morrison, executive director of the NDH Foundation.

To see a video of Steve Johnson, click here.

To learn more about the Paul Rosenthal Rehabilitation Center at Northern Dutchess Hospital, call 845-871-4313 (TTY: 800-421-1220) or visit https://www.healthquest.org/ndhrehabcenter