Joel's Story

Joel Ries, 52, is a Phoenix native, father of two and works as a business development manager at JP Morgan Chase. When he’s not working, Joel enjoys spending time eating Mexican food, exercising, swimming and traveling.

Joel awoke at his normal time one morning, having spent the previous evening out with a friend. When he went to get out of bed, he fell. His friend was over, heard the fall, and tried to help Joel up. When that failed, she called 911. Joel was rushed to Banner Desert Medical Center (BDMC), where he underwent testing. Joel had suffered a stroke.

Physicians determined that Joel was a good candidate for a thrombectomy, which is a surgical procedure to remove a blood clot from inside an artery or vein. After surgery, Joel spent several days in the ICU before being transferred to a specialized neurological unit. The stroke left Joel with significant challenges. Initially, he was unable to walk, talk or swallow. He had a feeding tube placed for nutrition and was unable to perform his self-care tasks. The stroke also affected Joel’s vision and left him with spatial neglect on his right side, which is when a person loses the ability to pay attention to their surroundings and body parts on the affected side.

While Joel began participating in physical, occupational and speech therapy at BDMC, his physicians there knew that he would need an intensive inpatient rehabilitation program to help him reach his goals of walking and talking again. Nine days after his stroke, Joel arrived at Banner Rehabilitation Hospital East to begin the next step in his recovery.

At Banner East, Joel’s interdisciplinary physician-led team of rehabilitation professionals got to work right away. Upon arrival, Joel was unable to communicate or move his right arm and leg. He required a significant amount of assistance for transfers, self-care and balance. His care team devised a care plan to help him regain his mobility, communication skills and independence.

Physical therapists focused on getting Joel moving again by utilizing neuromuscular electrical stimulation to strengthen the muscles on the right side of his body. Over time, Joel was able to regain movement in his right leg, allowing him to progress to using bodyweight support systems. This included LiteGait, an innovative gait-training device that simultaneously controls weight bearing, posture and balance over a treadmill or over ground. Additionally, Joel was one of the first patients to use the hospital’s exoskeleton, which is a wearable robotic suit designed to help patients learn to stand and walk again.

Joel worked hard with speech therapists to learn to eat again as well as improve his cognitive and communication skills. They taught him swallowing strategies to reduce the risk of choking and tried new foods and liquids as he progressed. Speech therapists also utilized kinesiology tape, which provides support to retrain Joel’s facial muscles to aid him closer to regaining his ability to speak.

In occupational therapy, Joel and his team concentrated on regaining functional use of his right arm while also teaching him one-handed techniques so that he could complete the majority of his self-care without assistance. Therapists taught Joel to self-propel his wheelchair, which gave him a new sense of independence. “Joel is one of the hardest working, most motivated patients I’ve had,” said his occupational therapist. “His family support and involvement throughout his rehab experience was a critical part of his recovery. Joel was truly a pleasure to work with and I am so proud of all he has accomplished.”

The turning point in Joel's rehabilitation came when he realized he could walk with the aid of the body weight support system. This breakthrough moment filled him with hope and determination to continue pushing forward.

Throughout his rehabilitation, Joel's family played a pivotal role in his recovery. His children, Jacob and Jacquelyn offered steady support, participating in family training programs to learn how to assist Joel upon his return home.

After a month at Banner Rehabilitation Hospital East, Joel had made great progress. From being told that he would never walk again to walking 200 feet with minimal assistance by the time of his discharge, Joel surpassed expectations. He plans to build upon the gains he made in inpatient rehabilitation with home health care and then outpatient rehabilitation.

Joel said he is looking forward to returning home, sitting in his favorite spot on the couch and watching a movie. He and his family have nothing but positive comments about their experience, saying, “It was such a nice place to heal. It was a very positive experience. It was hard work, but rewarding. We’re grateful.”

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