From the time she was 13-years-old, Christa Knox knew she wanted to be a teacher. Fourteen years later, living her dream and teaching middle school in Portland, OR, her world was turned upside-down.

Stroke in surgery

“In 2009, I was blindsided by a stroke,” says Knox, explaining that it happened during surgery to correct a brain arteriovenous malformation, or a tangle of abnormal blood vessels connecting arteries and veins in the brain.

Rehabilitation started almost immediately, in the hospital, and continued in a rehabilitation center. There, a team of health care professionals worked with Knox to help her walk again and restore movement to her right side. “At that time of your life you’re so helpless in so many ways,” she reflects, “You need people to advocate and stand up for you.”  

“‘Having a stroke was just one piece of my story,’ Knox adds. ‘But it doesn’t have to be the title of my book.’”

Who’s on your team

Typically, a rehabilitation health care team consists of a neurologist, rehabilitation nurse, physical therapist, occupational therapist, speech-language pathologist, recreation therapist, social worker, neuropsychologist and a case manager.

“Having such a wide variety of different therapies really helped my brain to get settled, and established and made up for the neurons that were lost,” Knox says.

Depending on the severity of the stroke, rehabilitation options can include: a rehabilitation unit in the hospital with inpatient therapy, a subacute care unit, a rehabilitation hospital with individualized inpatient therapy, home therapy, returning home with outpatient therapy, or a long-term care facility that provides therapy and skilled nursing care.

Getting back on her feet

The long-term goal of rehabilitation is to improve function so that the stroke survivor can become as independent as possible. Knox had good insurance and, for two years after being released from the rehabilitation facility, was able to make rehabilitation her fulltime job.

“I went to all of my appointments but also had a lot of exercises to do at home,” she says. “I had my homework to do every week. It was great to have a strong network of people to help me, to cook dinner for me, and help me around the house so I could focus on my therapy.”

Knox had to give up her teaching job, but went on to earn her master’s degree in nutrition and now teaches others about food and its effect on neurological health. “I didn’t want my stroke or my brain surgery to define me,” she sums. “I told my doctor, ‘I can’t decide if I’m a stroke victim or stroke survivor,’ and he said, ‘You were once a stroke patient.’”

“That was such a wake-up call for me. Having a stroke was just one piece of my story,” Knox adds. “But it doesn’t have to be the title of my book.”