Thriving After a Stroke

by Ryan Halvorson on Oct 30, 2012

Client Success Story

When insurance runs out, a stroke victim switches from physical therapy to personal training.

Client: Ray
Personal trainer: Julie Lombardo, owner, Sweet Success Personal Training
Location: Chino Hills, California

Making the switch. In 2005, now 80-year-old Ray suffered a hemorrhagic stroke that resulted in numbness on the left side of his body. Interested in improving function and fitness, he sought the guidance of physical therapists. Eventually, he was forced to give up treatment because his insurance coverage had reached its maximum.

In what could be seen as a serendipitous moment, Ray discovered another option. “By chance, he was in a parking lot and glanced down to see a business card with our name on it,” says Julie Lombardo, personal trainer and owner of Sweet Success Personal Training. “That is how he found us.”

In the beginning.“I work at the Fitness Center within the Brea Community Center in Brea, California, as well as train clients privately in their homes,” Lombardo says. “The home healthcare industry would benefit greatly from our services, as many seniors and disabled persons are homebound, unable to get to a gym and desperately in need of in-home exercise services.”

Although mobility was an issue for Ray, he managed to make it to the community center to begin working with his new trainer. “Ray walked extremely slowly and brought his wife with him for assistance,” Lombardo recalls. “He could only walk into the front half of the building, because walking to the rear of the building at that time was too strenuous.”

During their first session, Lombardo started Ray with some lightweight dumbbell exercises, which posed quite a challenge. “Ray’s left hand shook uncontrollably, and he became frustrated because he could not make that hand do what he wanted.”

Regaining strength. “For the first few months, Ray and I worked alone in a private room. We started with seated upper-body exercises using free weights,” Lombardo recalls. She challenged Ray to do exercises while seated on a stability ball, resistance tubing exercises and hand-eye challenges that included tossing a small, underinflated stability ball back and forth. He also held the ball between his ankles and lifted it while in a seated position.

“After a few months, Ray was confident enough to enter the main gym floor,” Lombardo says. “We progressed from free weights to standard weight machines. He is now able to perform almost an entire circuit, including the seated Roman chair, leg extensions, hamstring curls, biceps curls, chest press, rowing machine, chest flyes, shoulder press and—his favorite—the back extension.”

Doing the impossible. “Ray’s training has changed tremendously. Our greatest success was the day he started to gain feeling on his left side, which he thought would never happen.”

Ray now walks faster and presents a longer stride length, and the shaking in his hand is under control. “His self-confidence in the gym has soared,” Lombardo says. “The other gym members say he is truly an inspiration and are amazed at his tremendous journey from impairment to advancement!”

Staying client-focused. There are standards of training for specific populations; however, Lombardo emphasizes understanding the individual. “Every client is [unique], and no one treatment plan for a condition will be best for all,” she advises. “Even if a doctor indicates ‘no restrictions,’ it is important to be cognizant of how the specific exercises are received by the client; any pain indicates [the need for] immediate discontinuance of the exercise and modications for the client.”

To ensure a safe and positive outcome, Lombardo focuses on facial expressions and body language for clues. “There are clients, usually men, who will work through the pain even when they should not.”

Understanding. Lombardo recommends doing homework before working with someone with a special condition. “It is absolutely essential to communicate with the client’s doctor for specific recommendations and contraindications,” she says. “I also do research on the specific type of stroke, since there are several.” She uses Web MD® and Mayo Clinic websites for resource information.

“The National Stroke Association is also a reputable source. You can call them directly, and they will send you information. They are a great resource, not only for information, but as a referral source if they know someone who needs our services.”

IDEA Fitness Journal, Volume 9, Issue 11

© 2012 by IDEA Health & Fitness Inc. All rights reserved. Reproduction without permission is strictly prohibited.

About the Author

Ryan Halvorson

Ryan Halvorson IDEA Author/Presenter

Ryan Halvorson is the associate editor for IDEA Health & Fitness Association; a Performance Specialist at Bird Rock Fit in La Jolla, CA; a Master Instructor for Metabolic Effect and the creator of www...


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