Work ethic is the secret for Modesto stroke survivor
Jeff Adelman is both a sociable guy and a man of few words, and has a winning attitude that’s carried him through more than a decade of stroke recovery.
Today, the Modesto man is a model for the hard work and perseverance that can enable stroke survivors to overcome disabilities or at least live with them.
Some 13 years ago, Adelman suffered a stroke causing extensive paralysis and almost total loss of speech. He is able to climb stairs today, drive a truck, live independently and give to the community as a driver for the senior meals program in Stanislaus County.
A talker before the life-changing stroke, Adelman, 55, isn’t shy about engaging folks with his own form of conversation, consisting of one-to-three-word sentences, facial gestures and creative use of his smartphone. When the words are not there, he might write a number in air with a forefinger or call up a picture online.
He often utters the word “hard” to express the difficulty and his determination to find the elusive words.
If he could speak fluently, Adelman might tell the world there’s no reason to stop living after a health crisis.
“He is an amazing individual because he really has the willpower and desire to live a life,” said Edith Adelman, his mother. “It is pretty amazing for someone who has had a stroke like the one he had.”
Almost 800,000 people are floored by a stroke in the United States every year, with a fatality rate of 18 percent. By far, seniors older than 65 are most vulnerable to strokes though they can occur at any age and some health care organizations are reporting an increase in younger adults.
Some people recover within a few months, while others have long-term disabilities.
Adelman, who left the hospital in a wheelchair, took advantage of rehab therapy to get back on his feet. He has used gym workouts to strengthen the paralyzed right side of his body. He stays active, and participation in two speech therapy groups has provided the small gains that his life is about.
Adelman is a founding member of the Pacific Aphasia Conversation Team at University of the Pacific, where he speaks to fellow members urging them to work on improving their function.
The blood clot that lodged in the left hemisphere of Adelman’s brain, when he was 42, damaged the primary speech center. When that happens, about 30 percent of sufferers are left with aphasia — total or partial loss of speech.
Adelman could barely manage one-word expressions when he joined the UOP therapy group in 2010. He was depressed and overweight. But through constant effort and small gains he occasionally forms four-word sentences today.
“Jeff understands what you are telling him, but he is unable to say what he wants to say,” said Larry Boles, a speech and hearing specialist who has worked with him for nine years at the UOP program.
Adelman also breathes enthusiasm into the Stroke Club at Sutter Tracy Community Hospital.
“He is kind of the coach of the entire group because he has gone there so long,” says a speaker on a video tribute to Adelman, who received the “Consumer of the Year” award at the California Speech-Language-Hearing Association conference in March in Pasadena. The UOP group nominated him.
The professional video depicts Adelman as a bright, robust and functional guy who happens to have aphasia.
Stroke and rehab
Adelman, with his economy of words, paints a clear a picture of his lifestyle before the stroke. “Fat. Drinking,” he says. And he exhibits pride that he left that life behind.
On Aug. 6, 2006, the former welder was home in Turlock and did not feel well. He told his daughter Breann, then 13, to run upstairs and search for symptoms of stroke on the computer.
Soon after, Breann was in the kitchen when her father was felled by seizures. She called for an ambulance. Edith Adelman, his mother, said it took three days for doctors to diagnose the stroke, so there was no immediate attempt to use medication to dissolve the blood clot.
Jeff, who could not speak and was paralyzed on his right side, spent three months in Santa Clara Valley Medical Center with other stroke victims frustrated with their lack of function.
After his release from care, Adelman sweated through a year of physical therapy and rehab in Turlock to start walking with a cane. A gadget was strapped around his lower right leg to stimulate a muscle when he lifts his thigh to walk; otherwise, the foot would drag.
He has worked to improve movement in his paralyzed right arm and long ago taught himself to smile and offer the limp hand for a shake.
Adelman, who learned he has a disorder spawning blood clots in his legs, has an implant in his abdomen that keeps the dangerous clots from migrating through his body. In another nod to stroke prevention, Adelman converted to a healthy diet and exercise, shedding 50 pounds.
Margarito Barajas became a physical trainer for Adelman after they met at a gym in Turlock.
“When I first met him, he had no real muscle density on the right side,” Barajas said. They worked on movement in the disabled right arm and right leg. After 18 months, Adelman was moving the arm more and extending the leg to walk without using the stimulator, Barajas said.
As Adelman regained his strength, his daughter says, he insisted on rejoining family members on the ski slopes, including his late father Everett Adelman, his mother and two siblings. At Dodge Ridge resort, a chair was rigged up with skis. Jeff sat down and someone skied behind him to steer him downhill.
“He is pretty stubborn in good ways,” his daughter, Breann, said.
Two carefully chosen words were milestones on Adelman’s long road of recovery.
He was living with his parents in Patterson when he looked at his mother one day and said, “drive.” His parents steeled their nerves and took him to a driving school, where Adelman and an instructor hit the road for a two-hour test. “They came back and the instructor said he was a better driver than most people on the freeway,” Edith said.
After losing his ability to identify letters and sounds, it took months of study for Adelman to pass the written test to obtain his license. Sometime later, Jeff summoned his parents, thought for a moment and said “out.” Now it was time for the grown man to stop living with mom and dad.
Edith, who owned a rental property, had the condominium upgraded for a person with disabilities. Jeff learned to walk upstairs to the condo before moving in.
There is no doubt Adelman has benefited from strong family support, which is important for anyone in younger age groups stricken by disease. Strokes that disable adults in their 40s or 50s may end careers and often create financial strain.
Meals on wheels
Two years ago, Adelman was eager for another outlet for his energies and his sister suggested the county’s “meals on wheels” program.
On Fridays, he packages food for seniors at the Howard Training Center in Ceres and makes deliveries to the home-bound residents. When he pulls up to a home and knocks on the door, he brings cheer to the home and shows the frozen dinners to the recipient.
“I think he is phenomenal,” said Helen Farris of Ceres. “With his problem, one whole side of him is affected. I noticed that he started improving his walking. He is a very intelligent man and he’s trying.”
The stroke survivor says his days of eating poorly are “no more.” On trips to the supermarket, his shopping list includes carrots, broccoli, onions, brussels sprouts and other veggies. And he’s not afraid to engage the cashier in chitchat.
Adelman is a fan and writes to Food Network star Guy Fieri, who sent him an autographed guest map of restaurants that bear the television personality’s name.
Adelman lives today in a one-bedroom house outside Modesto with an office and well-kept yards. He mows the lawns and goes to a gym three days a week to maintain muscle tone.
A strong swimmer as a youth, Adelman pedals for 45 minutes on a stationary bike at home before going to the gym for training with weights, Barajas said. “He has a hand strap, so when we put on weights, he is able to do the bench press,” Barajas said. “He can do dumbbells with that arm with a little assistance. At least he gets movement into it.”
Barajas continued: “He always tries what I tell him to do. He has definitely improved since I met him.”
Adelman’s difficulty with language has a name — Broca’s aphasia. Other speech-impaired people in stroke recovery, who speak fluently but have trouble understanding what others say, most likely have Wernicke’s aphasia.
Boles at UOP said nouns come to Adelman more readily than do verbs and adjectives. One theory is that stroke victims revert to an early development stage similar to when children begin speaking single words like ball and cat.
Laura Cook, a language pathologist for the stroke club at Sutter Tracy, says Broca’s aphasia affects the motor parts of speech and is one of the lesser-known effects of stroke.
“People can walk out of the hospital looking unscathed but not able to speak,” Cook says. “It is pretty devastating.”
About a fourth of stroke club members on a mailing list attend the meetings for information and a roundtable discussion. Some disabled people on the list cling to home or can’t get out. The largest number come out in December for the Christmas dinner and gifts, Cook said.
Caregivers can learn to communicate with loved ones by watching their body language or using basic sign language, electronic devices or picture books.
There is always hope that Adelman and others with aphasia can completely recover their speech. But the National Aphasia Association states that complete recovery is unlikely if the disability lasts for three months after a stroke.
“I would say, if you check back 10 years from now, (Jeff) will still have aphasia and will be speaking in slightly longer sentences,” Boles said
Adelman’s social skills and zest for life have won him friends in many places, such as the burger restaurant worker in Southern California who took the time to listen to Jeff and gave him several T-shirts. Adelman usually drops in when driving to visit Breann in San Diego.
Before the Pasadena convention in March, Adelman and his daughter scripted a routine in which she would tell her father’s story and then pause for him to fill in a single word.
After taking the stage to accept the distinguished consumer award, the state’s stroke recovery champion went off-script and launched into the narrative in that special way he tells a story. The father and daughter later returned to their prepared remarks.
Breann asked: How long does it take to recover from a stroke?
Adelman leaned into the microphone, paused and said: “Forever.” The audience laughed and applauded.
Stroke, or bleeding in the brain, is fatal for 140,000 people in the United States every year. One third of those hospitalized are younger than 65.
Risk factors: High blood pressure, diabetes, smoking, heart arrythmia.
Symptoms: Numbness in face, confusion, trouble speaking, dizziness.
What to do: Call 911.