On August 16, 1997, at the age of 38, I had a stroke.  My right side was paralyzed, I had trouble speaking and I was very confused.  It was scary – I live alone and I didn’t know when someone would find me and I was unable to call for help. Thank God my Mother called me, realized that something was wrong, and had the police and ambulance dispatched to my home.  I was in the hospital for a week.  At first my prognosis was not so good but I worked very hard on getting use of my right side back.  When I was released from the hospital I was doing well enough to be sent home instead of being released to a rehabilitation facility.  I was under my doctor’s care for 6 months after being released from the hospital because I was on blood thinners.

The only real problem I remember mentioning to him during that time was that I was having some light-headedness that he chalked it up to fluctuating blood pressure (I later found out on the internet that this is common after a stroke).  When I asked what I could expect for my recovery I was told that I was lucky and things should be business as usual – I got the impression that the stroke was behind me and I should be fine.  I had several appointments with a neurologist who had me do some tests (touching my finger to my nose with closed eyes, standing on one foot, etc.).  He also told me that I was very lucky and that I seemed to be doing fine.  I also met with a hematologist who tested my blood to check all my hormone levels.  None of these doctors ever cautioned me about any problems that could occur although I asked repeatedly what to expect. I continued to progress and returned to work full-time 3 weeks later.  I thought the stroke and the problems associated with it were behind me.  I saw no reason why any lingering symptoms would not continue to improve.  Little did I know that this was just the beginning.  I was on my way down the escalator.

Going down the escalator

Aside from the lingering problems of bad handwriting and some leftover confusion I thought I was fine.  I had my first indication that I had a much bigger problem one year later.  I noticed that the toes on my right foot were curling up and clenching.  I also noticed that when walking any distance my right thigh was getting very heavy and it hurt.  I started to develop a feeling of burning on my skin which would come and go.   I mentioned these new symptoms to my Doctor during my yearly visit and we both wondered if it was from the stroke.  We thought it was odd because a year had passed.  I got the impression that he thought the symptoms were stroke-related but couldn’t be sure and wasn’t sure what to do about it.  I got on the internet (which has proven to be my most valuable tool) and I found other fellow stroke patients who had similar problems.  After some searching I found a name for my problem.  It was called spasticity – a common symptom after a stroke although this was something I had never heard of.  I couldn’t believe that after all the doctors I saw while in the hospital and when I was released that no one even hinted that any of these symptoms would occur.  What is really scary is obviously I am not the only one.  I read case after case on the internet from stroke patients who were as in the dark as I was.  I immediately made an appointment with a neurologist who confirmed that these were indeed symptoms of spasticity from the stroke.  She gave me no indication that this spasticity would get any worse and acted like it was no big deal.  She gave me a prescription for Baclofen which I did not take due to the many side effects.  She recommended Botox injections but that sounded too drastic for me.  Other than that there was nothing else she could do for me.  She classified my problem as a nuisance aliment and told me to count myself lucky that I could walk.  She said that the burning on my skin was from my nerve endings and never alluded that there was anything I could do about it. I figured that eventually these symptoms would just go away.  I continued moving forward with my life and for some reason, no matter what I did my symptoms kept getting worse.  The following year I tried hypnosis.   Once again, there was more talk about learning to live with these symptoms – although the woman I saw tried to help me the underlying message was that I may have to accept the spasticity and learn to live with it.  I didn’t understand why someone couldn’t help me get better – I was very frustrated and unwilling to accept that this was the way I would be for the rest of my life.  Next, I tried to physical therapy.  The therapist taped my foot and had me stretch.  She told me that by stretching and lengthening out my shortened muscles I would lose at least 75% of the spasticity – I did not.  I stretched and stretched but my toes kept curling.  I was also fitted for orthotics to try to force my toes to act as they did before the stroke.  They hurt.  Finally, I tried acupuncture and Chinese herbs (for 2 1/2 years).  The acupuncture helped a bit but as soon as I stopped the symptoms continued to worsen.  I was frustrated and getting angry.  I saw a lot of doctors and I got the impression that not one of them really knew how to help me.  Even though I asked what I could expect in the future not one doctor was able to give me any information, and believe me, I asked a lot of questions.  Some of the doctors I spoke to didn’t even seem bothered by the fact that they didn’t know how to help me.  One thing that they all mentioned was the “5 year window” – after 5 years there would not be much hope for any additional improvement.  I was going down that escalator even faster.

By 2006 I was at the end of my rope.  I was caught in a downward spiral. I was starting to feel that if I didn’t do something soon I was going to end up in a wheelchair – which was not an option for me.  I thought that I was doing everything I could to help myself.   I was walking 2 miles a day, exercising, and lifting light weights.  I thought that I was strengthening my body but my body was not cooperating.  The problem which affected my life the most was my foot which was in constant spasms.   My great toe would stick up in the air and all the other toes would curl under.   Finding shoes to wear that didn’t make me want to cry was almost impossible.  Driving was disastrous.  This nuisance aliment had taken over my life.  It was time to bite the bullet – I decided to do research into the Botox injections.  I got on the internet and everything I read about Botox seemed to be positive – although everything I was reading was written by doctors and not by patients.  I happened upon a website that had patients with spasticity posting their experiences with Botox.  They were not so positive.  Then I read a posting from a woman whose Father had spasticity from a stroke and she said that he had great success with the Vasa Concept.  I immediately looked it up and found Dr. Rajul Vasa’s website.

Going up the escalator

I read everything on Dr. Vasa’s website (brainstrokes.com).  I immediately liked her approach.  It made sense.  There was no medication involved – just exercise and hard work.  I could do that!  I emailed Dr. Vasa, explained my situation to her and asked for her help.  She answered me promptly and strongly cautioned me about the Botox injections.  Although it had been ten years since my stroke she offered to treat me and asked if I would come to India.  I have travel anxiety and the stress of the trip would not have been good for me.  She was kind enough to help me long distance.  She explained that since the stroke my brain had learned wrong patterns which had been reinforced over and over again for the past 10 years.  We would have to retrain my brain which would take hard work and commitment.  She asked for a video of me walking, standing, sitting, writing, etc.  It took me a while to find someone with a camera but I finally did the video and sent it to her for her review.  Once she saw the video she was able to zero in on some of my more noticeable problems (limping, loss of swing in my right arm when walking, the way I hold my hand when writing).   We identified my most bothersome symptom as the spasms in my great toe.

Dr. Vasa emailed me my first set of repetitive exercises which I was able to do in my home.  These exercises were designed to make my leg less heavy and to calm the spasticity in my great toe, help my hand function more smoothly and to get the swing in my arm to return when walking.    As soon as I started them I saw immediate results – even after so many years had elapsed.  I could not believe it!  Right away my foot started to calm down.   I also noticed that my typing ability improved.  Around my second or third week of the exercises I noticed that the calf muscle in my left leg was becoming extremely sore to the touch which frightened me.  Dr. Vasa explained that this was my body’s way of washing out the toxins that were stored in there and I would now achieve better circulation – which I have.   The constant tightness in my thigh has dissipated and my right leg has become much more relaxed.   I emailed Dr. Vasa my log each week and she adjusted the program accordingly – building on the previous program.  Within a month I even started to notice that the many spider veins I had developed in my leg were getting lighter in appearance.   Dr. Vasa has added new exercises to the program to help me achieve the necessary results to reach my goal.  Over the months my exercise program has progressed with each exercise more difficult than the previous.   I am constantly seeing the benefits of these exercises.  My great toe has stayed relaxed and the heaviness has never returned to my leg.  The swing is just recently starting to return to my arm.  My toes are still curling but they are much better than they were.  And honestly, I think I’ve only felt burning on my skin once in the past 5 months.  I feel that we undid an incredible amount of damage in just 7 short months.

What is truly amazing about the Vasa Concept is that it actually treats the body-brain connection and not the stroke symptoms (which is what the doctors were doing).  The Vasa Concept exercises the brain connections to reintegrate the muscles so they will function as they did before the stroke.  The muscles are strengthened as a result of the prescribed exercises.  Every doctor who treated me concentrated on my spastic foot, which was only a symptom of the problem.  All the while I was doing physical therapy, walking, and exercising,  I was reinforcing wrongly learned patterns in my brain.  What I (and many other stoke patients) had been doing was exercising the muscles and reinforcing the wrong, spastic behavior.

Dr. Vasa tailors the exercise program to each individual and goes right to the root of the problem – and she gets results! She has compared it to finally going up the down escalator and she is right!   Each new exercise that Dr. Vasa gives me is a well-received challenge.  They are difficult but they are also fun.  The best part is that she has put me in the driver’s seat – in control of my own recovery.  Also, my body is more toned than it has ever been which is definitely a plus!   Right now I am working on 2 new exercises which will improve my balance and toe spasms, help to improve my handwriting and hopefully rid myself of some droopiness on the right side of my face.  I have not mastered them yet but I will keep working until I do.   I see nothing in my way to the top of that escalator.  It may take a while but I will get there!

I have been working long-distance with Dr. Vasa for approximately 8 months.  We communicate by email and I send her videos as she requests them.  She has been diligent in designing an exercise program to help me undo the years of mis-learned behavior.  All she has ever asked of me is that I work hard and have faith.  I know that I still have a long way to go but I have made great strides.  My right thigh no longer hurts when I walk.  I am much steadier on my feet, and my limping has subsided.  I also thought that I had developed a bad case of tendonitis in my right elbow a few years ago but now that has disappeared too!  The Vasa Concept has been a miracle to me.   I didn’t realize the host of problems that cropped up over the years until they started going away.   This is why it is imperative for stoke ‘victims’ to seek the kind of help that Dr. Vasa gives as soon after the stroke as possible.  If I had found her 11 years ago I wouldn’t have been faced with the problems I had.  The most important thing is that my frustration had turned to hope.  I cannot put into words what Dr. Vasa’s help has meant to me.  I will keep working for as long as I have to and I really believe that one day I will reach the top of that escalator and become symptom-free.

Please, if you are reading this because you, or someone you know, have had a stroke do not delay in seeking treatment with Dr. Vasa.  Some of the physicians I saw tried to be helpful but they clearly lacked the understanding of the brain/muscle connection.  Even if you think that you are ok – symptoms have a way of cropping up and worsening over the years and the longer you wait the harder you will have to work to get up that escalator.

Feel free to contact me if you have any questions or if I can be of any help.

Victoria Matthews

1840 Crompond Rd #2-C5

Peekskill, New York 10566

U.S.A.

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