Lou Vandervlucht suffered a stroke more than a year ago, but after a lot of hard work, he is now inching his bowling average back above 200.
In the late night hours of Jan. 31, 2010, Vandervlucht rolled onto his left side in bed, but he couldn’t pick up his right arm to move with him; sitting on the side of the bed, he couldn’t shake it out; when he tried to stand, his right leg buckled under him; after carefully making his way to the kitchen, Vandervlucht discovered he couldn’t write his own name.
As a former military nurse, Vandervlucht knew the signs of stroke.
“I’m in trouble, you need to call 911,” Vandervlucht told his wife, knowing that the sooner he got medical attention, the better his chances were for recovery.
After months of therapy and a show of personal strength, Vandervlucht’s bowling game is not quite up to the 226 average it was before the stroke, but it far exceeds the 66 he averaged his first week back to the sport.
For someone who has been bowling for 55 of his 71 years, that means Vandervlucht is getting his life back.
“It’s patience, patience, patience,” he said.
Vandervlucht, a Peoria resident, did his rehabilitation at Banner Boswell Medical Center, which will play host to a ‘Life After Stroke’ event on June 14 to help answer questions community members have about stroke.
Vandervlucht went through 10 days of physical and occupational therapy while staying at the Banner Boswell Rehabilitation Center, as well as an additional three months of therapy at the hospital.
Physiatrist Dr. Natalya Faynboym, the medical director at Boswell’s rehab center, said about 40 percent of the patients there have suffered a stroke, but the staff provides personalized one-on-one care with the goal to send as many of those patients back home, rather than to another assisted-care facility.
“It’s really pretty comprehensive,” Faynboym said. “It’s completely individualized to the patient’s needs, which is part of why I think it’s so successful.”
Faynboym said up to 80 percent of rehab center patients go home after their therapy, a rate she says is about 10 percent higher than other facilities.
Vandervlucht said he told the rehab center staff right away that he had a major bowling tournament in May that he hoped to participate in.
“The first day, I couldn’t walk on my own, I couldn’t use my hand,” Vandervlucht said.
Vandervlucht now bowls at least four games a day, and had a game average of 195 at a recent state tournament.
“Some days the bowling looks not very good, and other days it looks better,” he said.
Vandervlucht worked hard during his therapy, even asking his nurses and rehab specialists to add more weight to his exercises; Vandervlucht attributes that ‘never give up’ mentality to his years as an athlete.
“Rehab is good, I’ll tell everybody that, but your personal determination is important,” Vandervlucht said. “The day that I let a speed bump slow me down, that’s a bad day.”
Vandervlucht often bowls with his granddaughter Chelsea Zemelka, who has been with him throughout his recovery.
“It just ended up being a process,” Zemelka said, adding that watching her grandfather, who taught her to bowl, struggle was difficult. She just wanted him to get better.
Stroke does not always result in physical issues like Vandervlucht had, but depending on where the stroke occurs in the brain can cause memory loss or affect speech.
“When you have a stroke, it’s not just the physical disabilities you have to deal with,” Vandervlucht said, explaining that even small comments from the people around him would annoy him, although his speech was never affected. “I never lost my memory, I just lost my ability to transfer some information here to there. It’s like a short circuit, you flip the switch, but the light doesn’t come on.”
Vandervlucht said he now visits the rehab center and hospital staff once a month, but just to say hello. With daily bowling now a part of his therapy, he hopes to make a full recovery.