Cliff Root and his wife, Marisa, traveled more than 400 miles and five hours from their hometown in Sheridan, Wyo., so Cliff could receive care at Northern Colorado Rehabilitation Hospital in Johnstown, Colo. And, they’ll tell you that every minute and every mile was worth it.
Almost two years ago, Root, who was 65 years old and on the cusp of retiring, suffered a massive stroke. A Vietnam veteran, Root was an active member of his community and integral in leading the economic development and policy of the state. He was an avid golfer and enjoyed participating in outdoor activities like hunting and hiking.
It was on a hiking trail with his wife that he suffered a stroke. “It was so sudden,” Root says. “Initially, I didn’t have the obvious signs of a stroke, so I wasn’t sure what was happening. I had extreme vertigo, nausea and problems with my eye, but I didn’t think it was a stroke.”
After an emergency phone call by his wife, Root was taken to a local hospital in Sheridan, Wyo. where he was diagnosed as having had a stroke. Root was unable to move his arms or legs, and he was unable to speak or communicate. It took him a while to process what had happened to him. His attending physician recommended outpatient therapy, but Root and his wife knew he needed more specialized treatment to recover. They were adamant about going to Northern Colorado Rehabilitation Hospital, where his stepdaughter works. His wife drove him the whole way.
“Choosing the right care is huge,” he says. “I knew I had to come here where they specialize in stroke rehabilitation. I was inspired by the people here who believed I could recover. It gave me a foundation and made me believe in myself.”
Root says it took a lot of support and consideration from his healthcare team and his family to help him recover. “I just had to surrender,” he says. “I couldn’t communicate my thoughts or move my muscles. It took a tremendous amount of energy just to listen. When you can’t communicate, it’s easy to become isolated if those helping you aren’t tolerant and understanding. I could have become part of the background, but I didn’t. “
Root admits that his healing process was challenging, but he kept thoughts of his family in the forefront to motivate him.
“There was such a role reversal; I went from being a father to a son,” he says. “Internally, I was so angry because I didn’t want to be that way. It was a ‘too much’ moment when I realized how incapacitated I had become.”
Root says he wanted to give up at times, but with the support of his family and the healthcare team, he kept going. He worked daily with physical therapists, occupational therapists, speech pathologists and others on his healthcare team. After three weeks, he was able to speak and walk, and had minimum balance, hearing and vision issues. He was discharged home and continued to receive outpatient therapy. With some adaptations, Root now participates in activities he enjoys like golfing and hunting.
“I was still making adjustments after I got home, but time is a great healer,” Root says. Since his recovery, Root has shared his story numerous times with others and plans to continue to do so. “I want to offer hope and encouragement to others who have gone through what I’ve gone through,” he says. “I want them to have the courage to do what I did to recover. I hope I can be an inspiration.”
“I had a lot of people pulling for me,” he continues. “A stroke can take down anyone, but with the right care and attitude, you can live a full life again. I’m living proof. If I can do it, others can do it too!”