Young Stroke Survivor Sees Positive Results After Participating in MUSC Research Studies

Samantha Paternoster
February 03, 2023
woman walking in harness for stroke recovery research
Research participant, Angie Blue, practices walking with the assistance of research associate Catherine Vanderwerker.

Angie Blue, a stroke survivor at the age of 36, has seen a major milestone in her recovery after participating in a research program at MUSC. Nearly 15 months after her stroke, she is now able to walk on a treadmill with little assistance. “I totally believe it’s connected to me doing the walking study at MUSC,” says Blue. It’s a promising achievement in Blue’s ongoing improvement, one that supports the potential of stroke survivors to experience recovery even after the one-year mark.

The study Blue participated in, Development of Sensory Augmentation Methods to Improve Post-Stroke Gait Stability, looks at the biomechanical strategy those with a neurologically intact neuro system use to keep their balance. “When we’re walking, we’re continually adjusting where our feet land and it’s not something we think about,” says Dr. Jesse Dean, a researcher in the Stroke Recovery Research Center (SRRC). “After a stroke, a lot of people don’t use that strategy anymore. So what we’re trying to figure out is can we restore that ability which we think will be associated with better walking balance.” His study is one of 30 studies the SRRC is currently conducting to investigate and hopefully improve stroke recovery processes specific to walking, balance and strength training, arm and hand function, voice and swallowing disorders, depression, visual neglect, and sensation.

woman reaches forward with armDuring Dean’s study, participants like Blue are put in unique mechanical situations to help them safely figure out how to keep their balance. By utilizing a harness that’s attached overhead, patients can safely relearn how to react to pushes on their legs or trunk without falling over. The study also focuses on non-tangible results like building participant confidence. “The things that are hard to measure, like confidence, are probably the most important that we’re able to achieve,” says Dean. Although the study still has another year to go before they have final results, the feedback received from past participants is signifying the study’s success as they share stories about finally being confident enough to walk through an airport and travel. “These are the things that I think really are affecting peoples’ lives,” says Dean.

And while the consensus regarding stroke recovery has been that recovery stops after one year, Blue is living proof that recovery is ongoing - but she wouldn’t have known about the resources needed to facilitate an ongoing recovery if it hadn’t been for a few key people.

Blue’s stroke was what she calls a freak stroke. At 34, with no family history or underlying health issues, Blue experienced three days of vomiting and difficulty focusing her vision before her stroke. Once released from the ICU at Baylor Scott and White Hospital in Dallas, Texas, she went straight into inpatient rehab, receiving the one charity bed they offered each year thanks to the guidance of a social worker at the hospital. Similarly, after relocating to Charleston, it was her physical therapist at Roper Rehab, Pam, who told her about the studies at the SRRC.

woman climbing stairsAs Blue continues to progress, she plans to participate in as many research studies as possible. “To me the studies are a free resource. It could help me or my actual recovery, or what they find could help someone else,” Blue says. “I really liked that what I was doing wasn’t helping just me.”

In the 15 months since her stroke, Blue has consistently been in therapy, amassing over $500,000 in medical bills that have been paid in full through disability and charity resources. It’s a story that she acknowledges as being highly uncommon – and she intends to change that. “For me, there is no way I can go back to doing anything else besides making sure my story isn’t rare,” says Blue.

Formerly an event wedding planner, she now intends to utilize her knowledge of running non-profit galas and sitting on boards to open her own non-profit that will provide fellow stroke survivors with the same guidance she feels fortunate to have received. Research study programs like those at MUSC are one resource she will always recommend. “I hope they never stop the stroke studies because they are impacting more lives than they realize,” says Blue.

Stroke survivors interested in participating in a current or future stroke rehabilitation research study can find more information by visiting the Stroke Recovery Research Center website.