TWIN FALLS, Idaho – Stroke survivor, Larry Gerdes, 77, is still hard at work, although his work has changed.

Nowadays, Gerdes is working his body and mind in therapy at St. Luke’s Rehabilitation outpatient therapy at St. Luke’s Magic Valley and he’s back on the job as well.

May is Stroke Awareness Month.

Patient Larry Gerdes works with Miranda Austin in outpatient rehab in April at St. Luke’s Magic Valley. (Photo by Michelle Bartlome, St. Luke's Magic Valley)

Wearing a T-shirt that reads, “I can survive anything” and a smile on his face, Gerdes tackles rehabilitation exercises that on a recent day included stepping up and down on a rolling ball to increase mobility on the right side of his body. Loss of feeling in the right side is one of the biggest side effects of his stroke.

Gerdes’ routine includes rehabilitation twice a week, attending a stroke support group at the hospital monthly and finding ways to maintain a positive attitude.

“If your attitude is bad, you are going to have trouble,” Gerdes said, laughing. “If your attitude is good, you are going to be much better.”

“It is true that a stroke is a life-changing thing, since we do not plan on having a stroke and it happens fast. But, it is best to bounce with it.”

Gerdes had his stroke in October of 2014.

A stroke is a sudden interruption of blood to the brain. Stroke is a leading cause of death and disability nationwide. Across the nation, more than 795,000 people have a stroke every year. On average, one American dies from a stroke every four minutes.

“I woke up one morning and when I went to walk to the bathroom, my right leg would not work, so I crawled to the bathroom,” Gerdes said. “My wife woke up and asked if I was all right and I said, ‘No.’ I had symptoms that I guessed was a stroke, so she called 911.”

Those symptoms included an upset stomach, impaired speech and vision, and the right side of his body was paralyzed. Gerdes was admitted to St. Luke’s Magic Valley.

When he began his rehabilitation, he said, the nurses secured his right hand to the rehabilitation machine because it “just flopped around.”

His rehabilitation included inpatient rehab at Gwen Neilsen Anderson Rehabilitation Center, where he spent three weeks working on improving his speech, swallowing, safety with walking, and dressing independently.

Larry Gerdes, 77, who is recovering from a stroke, works with Miranda Austin in outpatient rehab in April at St. Luke’s Magic Valley. May is Stroke Awareness Month. (Photo by Michelle Bartlome, St. Luke's Magic Valley)

After two and a half years of rehab, use of his right side has been restored. While his hand isn’t as strong, it allows him to work, which he does in Buhl at a milk processing business. When he is tired, he still gets double vision, a residual reminder of the illness that sidelined him.

Getting to this point wasn’t easy. He is thankful for the support of others, including the stroke support group that he regularly attends.

“You get acquainted with others, since you have a common problem and while every stroke is identifiable as a stroke, every stroke is different,” he said. “For the most part, we just talk to each other and tell each other what is going on in our own lives. I learned that there were others in the room with similar problems. It just isn’t something that you talk about normally. It was nice to know these problems were not unique to me.”

Risk factors for having a stroke include high blood pressure, high cholesterol, atrial fibrillation, heart disease, and diabetes. Lifestyle choices may also have an impact. Obesity, drinking too much alcohol, tobacco use, and having an unhealthy diet can influence your risk for stroke. Genetics may also be a factor, however, up to 80 percent of strokes are preventable.

Recognizing a stroke and acting fast is essential. That’s the biggest piece of advice that Dr. Kevin Kraal can offer.

“If you think there is any possibility at all that you are having a stroke, call 911 immediately,” said Dr. Kraal, medical director for Air St. Luke’s and Magic Valley Paramedics.

“You lose 1.9 million neurons each minute that you are having a stroke.”

Both patients and family members experience major lifestyle changes following a stroke. To help adjust, St. Luke’s Magic Valley offers a stroke support group for patients and families. In addition to group discussion that offers encouragement and support, each meeting includes a brief presentation by a medical expert. The stroke support group meets the second Friday of every month from 1 to 2 p.m.

For more information, call Stephanie Shawver, Stroke Program Manager, at (208) 814-4030.


By Michelle Bartlome
Public Relations Manager
St. Luke’s Magic Valley and St. Luke’s Jerome