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Not an Ending: A New Story



Dave Fox walks down the hall of Sanford’s stroke rehabilitation unit to wheel a patient over to physical therapy.

Five days a week, the hospital volunteer does whatever he can to help meet the needs of Sanford patients. At the rehab unit he spends his days with people who are working to get back the skills they’ll need to live at home – eating, talking, getting dressed, writing and even walking.

But this retired Sioux Falls man is more than just a friendly visitor. Seven years ago Dave had a major stroke at age 55 that changed his life forever. Today, helping out patients who are in their first few weeks of their “new life” helps give his life meaning.

“Life as you know it is over, but your life is not over,” says Dave, sitting in a brightly lit hospital lounge. “There is a life after your stroke, but you have to develop that new life.”

His worst day

Dave, then a financial analyst, was having a typical day at work when suddenly his head started hurting in a way he had never experienced before. On that September day in 2005, the Sioux Falls man was set up to work on a budget in the conference room of his company at their Fargo location, sitting at a table surrounded with papers.

The next thing that he remembers is having collapsed and was laying on the floor, unable to speak or move. He doesn’t recall many details about being rushed to the hospital or even the next few weeks, except that he was focused on the uncompleted budget.

Gradually , he realized that he couldn’t move his right side, speak or even walk. He was angry and frustrated, and he’s been told that he often was quite difficult to deal with, he says with a smile.

“In your mind, you’re thinking clearly, but you’re not,” he says. “I gave them a lot of grief. I didn’t want to be treated like a kid. I was an adult.”

Fighting to get back

But eventually, he came around, working with physical therapists to take his first steps again. He learned to walk again, even though he had no sensation in his feet. His speech returned on it’s own, but he had to relearn nearly everything he did day to day.

“I don’t know how to describe what it’s like,” says Dave. “You start out all over again, and you have to think about everything you do. Nothing is just an automatic movement.”

Returning home, Dave continued his therapy and even returned part-time to his old job. But after about a year back at work, he retired, finding it too difficult. It was time to create a new life.

At the suggestion of his former therapists, he started volunteering at the rehab unit in 2007. He spends half days at the hospital, splitting his time between the stroke rehabilitation unit and Sanford Children’s Hospital.

An inspiration

Physical therapist Todd Sunde says that Dave is incredible help, walking patients down the halls, sharpening pencils, changing linens and doing whatever needs to be done. But even more importantly, he’s a real-life example that life goes on after rehab, he says.

“It’s so acute for families, it’s all so new,” says Sunde. “He just seems to be able to figure out who wants to talk and who needs to hear his story.”

Until Dave tells his story, most patients can’t tell that he has quite literally walked in their shoes. His gait is steady, even though has to think carefully about every step, and his speech is clear.

Dave says that he brings up his own experiences when it seems appropriate, telling patients about his challenges and the ways that his life has changed. Often, the people who ask him the most questions are the family members who can be overwhelmed as the whole family tries to deal with something entirely new.

“Some people really want to talk with you and others don’t. You get a gut feeling about what to do,” says Dave. “If I can help someone understand this, or make life a little easier, I’ve done what I need to do.”

He says he knows what it’s like to be disappointed that you can’t go home yet because your house is not yet set up safely for you. He remembers refusing to go to physical therapy because he had not yet come to terms with his stroke, or the work that needed to be done.

And often, when he thinks back to those days, he gets a little teary. Emotions close to the surface are one of the after effects of the stroke and part of his “new life.”

His former therapists tell him, that his volunteer work at the hospital probably helps keep him fit and in the best condition he can be. It’s good for the patient and for Dave when he helps play ring toss or balance games in the physical therapy room.

“When I’m here, it helps me realize where I’ve been and where I’m at now,” says Dave. “My life is different, but it’s certainly very full.”

Posted Date: May 2013

Not an Ending: A New Story

Dave Fox’s life changed forever seven years ago, when he had a massive stroke at age 55. Seven years later, this dedicated Sanford volunteer works with people who are learning how to create a new life after a stroke.