Ryan walking on a treadmill after his stroke

Patient Story

Ryan's Story: Surviving a Stroke at 20

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It was just another day at the beach for 20-year-old Ryan and his family. After a day of horsing around with his brother in the Florida sun, Ryan went to take a shower.

Suddenly he experienced numbness in his right arm, then his right leg. He called to his mother, Lisa.

Dialing 911, Lisa told Ryan to sit down. She suspected a stroke. When she asked Ryan to raise his arms above his head, only one arm went up. When she asked him to smile, only one side of his face moved.

We wanted to give our son the best chance for reclaiming his active, happy life

Lisa, Ryan's Mother

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“I was in disbelief,” said his dad Dennis. “A stroke? Ryan was 20, a high school standout athlete. He was doing well in college … but there it was. My beautiful young son was having a stroke.”

In fact, a stroke can occur at any age. At the Shirley Ryan AbilityLab, incidence of stroke in young people is outpacing all other patient conditions, including spinal cord and traumatic brain injuries.

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While in the hospital, Lisa and Dennis began researching next steps. Where should Ryan go for rehabilitation? “We wanted to give our son the best chance for reclaiming his active, happy life,” recalls Lisa. “The same name kept coming up — the Shirley Ryan AbilityLab. It came up online, from his doctors, family members in medicine, from Dennis’ colleagues in the Air Force. We had our answer.

Two weeks after the stroke, they moved Ryan to the Shirley Ryan AbilityLab. When he arrived, he couldn’t sit up without extreme dizziness. He had trouble finishing sentences and couldn’t move his right arm. “Day One, they had him standing, walking, climbing a few steps,” said Lisa. “When I saw that, I felt for the first time, ‘Yes, he’s going to get better.’”

Get better he did. In the Legs + Walking Lab, Ryan worked with PTs and OTs and steadily reclaimed his lost abilities — walking, climbing stairs, using his right arm, speaking.

“I have an A average,” beams Ryan. “I’ve gone to the movies and out to dinner with friends. It’s hard, but I’m getting better every day. I know I wouldn’t have gotten this far — this quickly — without my team at the Shirley Ryan AbilityLab.”

All the while also giving back. Ryan eagerly agreed to participate in a clinical trial to measure movement and contractions in spastic muscles following stroke. Ryan has moved onto outpatient therapy in Northbrook where he continues to build strength and endurance.

Today Ryan is completely independent at home and has returned to college part-time.

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