F.C. Stroke Survivor Takes Anniversary Trip with Help of Walking Therapy

Four years ago, a then 30-year-old Christina Arnold suffered a stroke. After years of therapy, this Falls Church stroke survivor’s path to recovery has led her back to Hawaii, where she hopes to relive her honeymoon in celebration of her 10-year anniversary.

Christina doesn’t remember what happened – thankfully, she says – but understands that she began seizing during the night, waking her husband, Chris. She was rushed to Inova Fairfax Hospital, where doctors determined that she had suffered a stroke.

The stroke was caused by a protein deficiency that affects the way her blood clots. The disorder was diagnosed when she was 25 and had developed a blood clot, and since then she has had to take medication daily to prevent clots from forming, as clots can block blood flow to the brain and cause strokes. But after a three-week period of discontinuing her medicine to deal with an ulcerative colitis flare-up, she had a stroke.

She awoke with problems moving the right side of her body.

She was hospitalized for six months, then transferred to the National Rehabilitation Hospital, where she began the long process of relearning the things that used to come naturally to her, like walking.

She spent two months living in the rehabilitation facility before she was able to return home, and still goes back to the hospital multiple times a week for therapy on an outpatient basis. At the National Rehabilitation Hospital, she began taking what she calls “baby steps” toward moving on her own once again, first learning how to use a wheelchair, then a walker, and then a cane.

Despite the progress Christina had made, her ability to walk was still troubled by foot drop, a condition in which a person either is unable to lift, or has difficulty lifting the front part of the foot. The condition, common amongst stroke sufferers, causes slow walking and instability.

The hospital suggested that Christina try a device called Ness L300, as part of an ongoing study the hospital is conducting. The Ness L300 is made up of three components – a cuff that administers electrical stimulation, a sensor to determine where the foot is placed in relation to the ground, and a remote control that allows the wearer to adjust the device.

“This is where it shocks me,” she said, pointing to her calf while demonstrating how the three parts work together during an interview with the News-Press. She says these words with the same matter-of-fact smile she bears while pushing back her curly brown hair to reveal the scar along the side of her forehead where doctors cut into her brain to repair the damage the stroke caused.

For a year, Christina wore the Ness L300 daily, and has recently been able to stop wearing it altogether, as the therapy has now enhanced her ability to move her foot even when she isn’t wearing it.

“It absolutely helps,” Christina said, praising the machine, though admitting that because it wasn’t covered by insurance, there was about a $4,000 cost for being able to use it.

With her ability to walk improving, Christina hopes to return to a beloved pastime, hiking with her husband, just in time for the couple’s 10th wedding anniversary.

The couple met while Christina was an intern at Chris’ office, bonding over a borrowed stapler and a lunch date her first week on the job.

After a five-year courtship, Chris and Christina married and then honeymooned in Hawaii, taking in the sights at the state’s various islands and deciding that Kauai was their favorite.

“We absolutely love it,” Christina said.

They vowed that they would return to the site about every four years. In the fall of 2008, the first of those milestones after Christina’s stroke, she and her husband had to decide whether or not to embark upon the trip, and after some consideration, decided to fly to Hawaii once more.

“There were definitely some things I couldn’t do,” she said. Because her endurance was diminished and her mobility was limited, she wasn’t able to do the hiking she normally would, which meant a lot of sitting on the beach instead. The News-Press spoke to Christina before she left for her vacation, and she was hopeful that because of her mobility therapy, she would be able to get around the island more easily.

“I don’t think I’ll be able to hike the whole Na Pali Coast, but just two miles would be OK,” Christina said.

Hiking isn’t the only hobby that Christina’s stroke has prevented her from enjoying, but she makes adjustments where she can, and hopes that as her therapy continues, she will regain the skills necessary to do the things she liked to do before the stroke.

“Before, I loved quilting, but I need two hands and now I only have one, so now I do needlepoint,” Christina said. “Hopefully eventually I will be able to get a little bit of feeling on my right side so I can do quilting again.”

While Christina is coping with the effects of the stroke on her mobility, she has also had to again learn how to speak, and still has some memory problems. She’s currently learning how to read again, and uses the help of special software to write and compose emails.

The former controller for the National Council on Aging doesn’t know at this point whether or not she will be able to return to work, but said that she is “constantly making progress,” and has even considered pursuing a career in public speaking.

“I am 35, so I really have my whole life to figure out what I’m going to do,” Christina said. “I have come a long way. It may not be next year, but eventually I will be back to normal, as much as I can. Every day is something new and I am still learning, and I think that is a good thing.”