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Speech Therapist’s Rare Disease Sheds New Light on Work with Stroke Patients|
FORT WORTH, Texas — It was terrifying: the right-side facial droop, slurred speech, and tongue deviation were textbook stroke symptoms Heather Storie knew like the back of her hand.
After all, the 26-year-old speech therapist devoted her days to helping stroke patients overcome the same lingering symptoms at Texas Health Harris Methodist Hospital Fort Worth. So she knew something was very wrong that June day.
“I thought to myself, ‘I’m having a stroke. I’m too young to have a stroke,’” she said.
Storie would eventually be diagnosed with a rare condition called moyamoya, which occurs in less than 1 percent of the population.
Now, two years after her first mini-stroke, Storie has recovered with her speech intact and an even greater commitment to her mission to help stroke patients. Her dedication to patients has earned her the 2013 Dallas/Fort Worth Hospital Council Employee of the Year award. Storie was one of four winners chosen from a pool of applicants from more than 50 North Texas hospitals. The award pays tribute to nurses, physicians, volunteers and other health care professionals in North Texas.
Storie has continued to work with stroke patients at Texas Health Fort Worth even as she continues to be treated for moyamoya.
“Moyamoya is a progressive disease in which the blood vessels that provide blood to the brain close down,” said Dr. Anthony Lee, neurosurgeon on the medical staff at Texas Health Fort Worth. “The brain compensates by creating collaterals, or alternate pathways, but sometimes it doesn’t work and that’s why these patients have multiple incidents of strokes.”
Treatment involves angioplasty and insertion of a stent to keep the blood vessel open, Lee said. If the stents are unsuccessful, a high-risk brain bypass surgery is needed. Similar to a heart bypass, brain bypass involves re-routing blood flow through another vessel to work around the blockage.
In the past two years, Storie has undergone two angioplasties and one stent placement.
“My advice to patients comes from a different place,” Storie said. “I was the person who wanted to get out of the hospital bed, get back to work, get back to driving. I know what it’s like to feel really scared.”
Scott Shelton, manager of rehabilitation services at Texas Health Fort Worth, said Storie displays a tireless work ethic and a selflessness that inspires others to improve.
“She has been hospitalized numerous times and has had multiple brain surgeries to alleviate her symptoms, but she continues to come back to work after treatments to make a huge impact on our patients and other caregivers,” he said.
Her accomplishments include taking the lead on stroke education courses for nursing staff and helping ensure swallowing treatments and assessments used are consistent with the most current research. She’s spent countless hours programming augmentative communication devices for patients who struggled with configuring and navigating them. Her patient care reputation precedes her; patients and families new to therapy ask for Storie by name.
“I wouldn’t want to be doing anything else,” she said.
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