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One Woman’s Journey to Recovery After a Rare Stroke

Photo: Courtesy of Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor

“It was clear that I was going to have to do things my own way if I wanted to recover from that level of a catastrophic stroke,” says Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor.

Losing control

Bolte Taylor, a neuroanatomist who taught and performed brain research at Harvard Medical School, had suffered a brain arteriovenous malformation (AVM) in the left hemisphere of her brain, which controls language. According to the Mayo Clinic, an AVM is a web of atypical blood vessels that link the brain’s veins and arteries. They affect less than 1 percent of the United States population.

“Over the course of four hours, I watched my own brain completely deteriorate in its ability to process all information, and by the end of that morning, I could not walk, talk, breathe right or recall any of my life,” Bolte Taylor said.

An unconventional recovery

Having spent much of her life studying the brain’s perception of reality and growing up with a brother diagnosed with schizophrenia, her rehabilitation, in addition to the nature of her stroke, was markedly unusual. She’s since started raising awareness of that approach. Post-surgery included living with her mother in a controlled environment that preserved her energy for relearning communication.

Bolte Taylor details her rehabilitation in her book “My Stroke of Insight” and encourages others to remain hopeful about stroke recovery, even two or three years after the event.

She says neurogenesis (brain cells’ ability to regenerate) and neuroplasticity (the brain’s ability to rearrange cellular communication) don’t inform rehabilitation standards and encourages others to pave their own recovery paths.

“It is difficult for patients because they think traditional rehabilitation is traditional for a reason,” Bolte Taylor says. “The problem is it’s been designed with the thinking that the brain is not capable of neurogenesis and neuroplasticity. It can rehabilitate you to your limitations instead of your possibilities.”

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