Steve Tull focuses intently on his left hand as his fingers slowly begin to straighten. This process of trying to open his hand is something he has been working on for more than three years.
Sitting on a small plastic office chair, the once independent and hard-working man watches as his mind battles with his body to open his clenched fist.
The former Judo instructor and Ladner resident had recently sold his trucking company and was in the process of planning a relaxing retirement with his wife when his life changed in an instant. Saturday, Nov. 3, 2007 is a date that is burned into his memory.
As usual he was up with his dog at 5 a.m., making himself a peanut butter and honey sandwich. As he reached down to clean up some honey he had accidently spilled, the muscles in his body gave way and he collapsed to the floor in a heap.
After a minute or two, with the help of his wife Janey, he was able to slowly get back to his feet, however he knew something wasn’t right. Although he looked and felt fairly normal a trip to the emergency ward and a battery of tests showed he had a blood clot on the brain and by the end of the day he was completely paralyzed on the left side of his body. Doctors told him he had suffered a stroke.
After being in hospital for one month and G.F Strong Rehabilitation Centre in Vancouver for three months, Tull and his wife began searching the Internet for possible treatments and they found a clinic based in Abbotsford that was offering some new technolgy.
Tull has been working with two new rehabilitation devices designed to improve his hand flexibility and give him the ability to walk on his own.
The devices, made by a company called Bioness, deliver electrical stimulation to the muscle which in turn sends a message to the damaged portion of the brain allowing the brain to relearn what has been damaged by the stroke. The new technology is the first of its kind in Western Canada and Tull is taking advantage of every edge he can get.
“At first it was depressing, but you just have to get past that,” said Tull.
The past president of the Delta Flying Club has no plans on giving up. In fact, he still has a goal of going hunting and fishing with his son again.
According to his physiotherapist Heather Branscombe of Abilities Rehabilitation in Surrey, his goal is not out of the question.
“You have to remember this is a marathon not a sprint, but you can never say never when it comes to rehab. There’s new technology coming out all the time.”
Although the Bioness system is not cheap – more than $6,000 per device – the equipment can be rented on a weekly basis. And there is a free screening process for every patient to see if these machines would be a benefit.
Tull also combines his physiotherapy with a personal trainer and pool exercise four times a week.
“Steve is super-motivated and has the time and the resources to benefit from this treatment,” Branscombe says. “All patients need repetition, and this is just one of many tools needed for patients to make serious progress.”