Four-year-old Stroke Survivor on the Road to Recovery
Looking at Harrison Dehamer today, you’d never believe he suffered a massive stroke just months earlier. Busy playing with his toys, the red-headed boy with the mischievous smile has made a remarkable recovery. Especially given he’s spent half of his short life struggling with chronic health issues as a result of an undiagnosed blood clot on his brain.
“It all started with a bad ear infection when he was two-years-old,” said Harrison’s mom Amanda Dehamer. “After he had tubes placed in his ears, Harrison never acted right. He kept to himself and never wanted to play with the other kids. He covered his ears whenever he heard loud noises.”
But unfortunately, that was just the beginning. For two years, Amanda constantly struggled to get her son to eat. He had trouble using and understanding language. Things took a turn for the worse when he developed severe diarrhea. After several trips to the emergency room of a Cincinnati hospital, Harrison was finally admitted. While there, his oxygen level dropped dangerously low during a diagnostic procedure. The next day, Harrison couldn’t see or speak as a result of swelling in his brain. An MRI confirmed a blood clot on his brain caused him to suffer a stroke that resulted in brain damage.
“We thought we were watching him die,” said Amanda.
After a grueling two-week hospital stay, Harrison’s brain swelling decreased and he slowly started to regain his vision and ability to speak. Doctors told Amanda rehabilitation was critical in the early weeks and months following a stroke, as this is the time period in which Harrison would make most of his recovery.
Harrison Begins Rehabilitation
Prior to his stroke, Harrison was already seeing Highpoint Health speech pathologist Lori Schroder, MS, CCC-SLP, for speech and language issues. “We didn’t know it at the time, but Harrison’s problems were likely due to his blood clot,” said Schroeder. After his stroke, Harrison’s difficulty understanding others, sharing thoughts, feelings, and ideas and using language in functional and socially appropriate ways got much worse.
“I used play-based therapy to treat Harrison’s speech and communication problems,” said Schroeder. For example, it was hard for him to understand spatial concepts like, “in,” “on,” “over,” and “under.” To help with that, Schroeder would have Harrison look at a picture book and then ask him questions about where a character was located in relation to an object. She also used books to help Harrison learn how to answer questions, state simple sentences and make predictions.
“Harrison loves Lori,” said Amanda. “Whenever we drive past the hospital he says, “There’s Lori!” She was always prepared with several different therapy scenarios depending on how Harrison was feeling.”
Making Therapy Fun
“When Harrison first came for physical therapy he was too weak to walk,” said physical therapist Liz Dillman, MPT. “His mom had to push him in a stroller. He couldn’t get through a whole session without having to take a break. The key to helping Harrison regain his strength and endurance was to keep him engaged by tailoring therapy sessions around his interests.”
Dillman created fun activities like scavenger hunts and obstacle courses where Harrison would have to go up and down stairs, get on and off of the balance beam, squat or reach high, stand on solid and foam surfaces, and throw, kick and catch a ball, to name just a few things. To motivate Harrison, Dillman would give him Leggo or puzzle pieces, as he made his way through the obstacle course. When he completed the course, he knew he would get to play with these things.
“Harrison was always excited to go to physical therapy,” said Amanda. “His favorite activity was when Liz created a scavenger hunt. He thought that was the best thing ever.”
Dillman said Harrison may have thought he was at a play session. But in reality, each activity was specifically designed to help him build his stamina and strength and also to increase his mobility and balance.
Getting Harrison to Eat
When Harrison came to occupational therapy after his stroke, he already had a feeding tube to help him get the calories and fluids he desperately needed. “He could swallow food but sensory issues were affecting his ability to eat,” said Cindy White, OTR-L. White said that while most of us can anticipate the texture of a food before we put it in our mouth, Harrison could not. “I made Amanda an active participant in his therapy by suggesting things she could do at home to get him to eat,” explained White. For instance, White encouraged her to let Harrison touch, play and smell his food before he puts it in his mouth.
“I was thrilled when Amanda called a couple days ago to tell me the feeding tube had been removed.”
White also worked with Harrison on improving his fine motor skills, as he was unable to hold things like forks, spoons and even crayons. Just like his other therapists, White designed fun activities to help him regain his function. “I’m very pleased with his quick recovery,” said White.
A Man on the Move
Today, Harrison is walking, running and playing like any other four-year-old boy. “The first thing he wants to do in the morning, rain or shine, is play outside,” said Amanda. “He especially enjoys riding his tractor and bike.”
“The Highpoint Health therapists did a great job communicating with me and one another throughout Harrison’s recovery,” said Amanda. “They were very knowledgeable and also provided me with a lot of reassurance throughout this difficult time. I would highly recommend them to anyone.”