Irene's story

Irene Brightbill stands outside beside her husband, Robert.

Irene Brightbill, 76, from Harrisburg, has lived in Central Pennsylvania all her life. She and her husband, Robert, ran a family marine business for more than 40 years. Once retired, Irene was enjoying golfing, boating and flying with Robert.

When Irene complained about soreness in her neck, Robert took her to an urgent care center and then as her symptoms worsened, to the Emergency Room. A CT scan revealed she had suffered a stroke with its effects intensifying including extreme weakness and loss of sight for four days.

After she stabilized, Irene was admitted to Helen M. Simpson Rehabilitation Hospital to continue her recovery. Irene’s sister, Shirley, worked as a nurse liaison at the rehabilitation hospital and helped Irene and Robert understand how rehabilitation would help Irene regain her mobility and ability to get back home.

Irene’s goal upon admission was to regain her independence and get back to her life before the stroke. Her care team immediately began a customized physical and occupational therapy program which included neuro-optometric rehabilitation.

Irene said, “I had to re-learn simple things like putting dishes away and folding clothes. We played games to help with my sight and I picked out things that were missing.”  Her therapists used gaming exercises to help improve her memory, concentration, decision-making and other cognitive skills. The skills and strategies she learned during therapy were also reinforced by her nursing team.

In the specialty vision program, Irene learned her stroke had interrupted the communication between her eyes and brain. After an assessment, Irene began a series of activities to improve her visual, perceptual and motor challenges. The neuro-optometrist used various tools including prisms, lenses and filters to help stimulate the parts of her brain that were not functioning due to the stroke.

Irene’s friends and family were a big help during her rehabilitation. She said, “I could not have done it without them!” Robert kept charts with Irene’s vital signs to monitor her closely. He noted her temperature, oxygen levels, blood pressure, weight and steps.

She laughs, “Robert was a great nurse. I had a line with intravenous antibiotics and he and my daughter learned to change and program it daily. He came to my therapy sessions and helped motivate me. Now that we’re home, we walk together to reach our goal of 10,000 steps a day.” Irene also participates with physical therapy and vision therapy in an outpatient center near their home.

Summarizing her experience, Irene shared, “I had not been in the hospital since my daughter was born 55 years ago except for an outpatient biopsy. My rehabilitation experience was wonderful. Therapy is definitely important to your recovery. The team pushed me and encouraged me to do what was needed to get home. Now I can enjoy normal everyday things again. You never know what turn of events you are going to be dealt, but with the right facility, you can get better.”