It was the day before Halloween 2018 and Vera Akinkuotu, an eighth grade English teacher, had just put the finishing touches on her Edgar Allan Poe themed classroom décor. Once home, she began unloading her car of the many tote bags that teachers are often accompanied by.
Suddenly, the drink in her hand fell to the ground. The bags followed suit. She realized she could no longer grip anything, not even the water bottle offered to her when she struggled to verbalize her sudden fatigue. Within minutes, she couldn’t speak. Confused family members rushed her to the hospital.
After discovering she’d had a stroke, Vera, then 32, checked into the Encompass Health Rehabilitation Hospital of Arlington, Texas and spent seven days in a new role— that of a student.
She would relearn how to grip objects and maintain balance, then tackle the fine motor skills that are crucial to a teacher who spends her days writing on whiteboards and typing in grades; tasks that remain challenging due to lingering nerve damage in her right hand.
“It’s tough because I’m someone who likes to make posters for the school, and decorate bulletin boards and programs for my church, but new weakness in my hands made those tasks feel impossible,” Vera said. “Luckily my rehabilitation technicians helped me prioritize getting back to those things.”
Vera kept a positive outlook, encouraged by the Encompass Health rehabilitation team who repeatedly told her she was too young to be there and too strong not to overcome. Their words were remnant of phrases she tells her own students: You can learn this. You are capable. Don’t give up.
Vera was most impressed by the ways her Encompass Health therapy team anticipated the challenges she would face upon discharge, using unique gadgets, activities and therapy techniques not offered in other facilities.
“They prepared me for daily struggles that I didn’t even think about,” she said. “From buttoning my jeans and blouses, to writing on the chalkboard and stepping in and out of the car and shower, they had a tool for everything.”
Equipped with the optimism and resilience of a teacher, Vera’s journey toward renewed independence continues. Less than one year after her stroke, she feels prepared to teach again and is excited to return to her role of decorating hallway posters, church bulletin boards and of course, her beloved classroom.