Sean’s Recovery Journey: Fighting COVID-19 and a Stroke with Help from St. Joe’s

After 64 days in the hospital recovering from a stroke and COVID-19, Sean received an enthusiastic clap-out from staff, and a warm welcome home from his family.

OAKLAND – Sean McCusker, a 51-year-old husband and father of three from Livonia, has faced immense challenges in the last six months. Diagnosed with both COVID-19 and a stroke at the same time, he lost his ability to walk and speak fluently, and has battled hard to recover. His determination, along with caring staff members and loved ones, have made his recovery possible.

Sean’s journey began in late March, when he first experienced symptoms of COVID-19. After a telemedicine visit with his primary care provider, he was instructed to quarantine at home, as his symptoms were generally mild. He had a low-grade fever, which dissipated after roughly ten days of quarantine. On the thirteenth day of Sean’s quarantine, he was home with his children when he suddenly began to have difficulties speaking and moving his right arm. He was taken by ambulance to St. Mary Mercy Livonia, where staff determined he had suffered a stroke.

Sean was transferred to St. Joseph Mercy Oakland for stroke treatment. While there, he also tested positive for COVID-19. It remains unclear if his stroke and COVID-19 diagnosis were related, though there is some evidence that COVID-19 may increase stroke risk. Sean required ventilation support for a few days, and then moved to the ICU. His wife Marla shared how difficult this time was, as COVID-19 restrictions meant visitors were not allowed: “It was so hard to not be able to see him. The staff was amazing though; they’d put on PPE and hold a phone up to him so we could FaceTime.”

After the stroke, Sean had significant visual impairments and non-fluent aphasia. He also had lost much of his ability to move his right arm and leg. As he slowly recovered, he moved to a step-down floor and began to work with the physical, occupational, and speech therapy teams. When he moved to Inpatient Rehab, he still required a Hoyer lift, and was unable to sit unsupported.

One of the physicians advocated for Marla to be able to come in to see Sean, and to learn various therapy and stretch techniques. Once she began coming in, Sean’s spirits and motivation lifted dramatically. Marla was glad to be there with Sean, and stated, “The therapists, doctors, nurses, and janitorial staff were so caring and pleasant. They were like our family while he was there.” Their son was also able to come in and learn techniques to help Sean.

Sean continued improving, completing his first walking training on May 30. A week and a half later, he walked 12 feet with assistance and the parallel bars. Within a few days, he walked 70 feet with a cane and support from a physical therapist. On June 12, 64 days after his arrival, Sean was discharged home with his family. He received an enthusiastic clap-out from staff, and was able to see his children and sister for the first time in months. Jody DiMaria, Director of Rehabilitation Services at SJMO, said, “There was not a dry eye in the house” during the clap-out.

Sean is now home with his family, and is continuing physical and occupational therapy in Livonia. Like many other families during the pandemic, his family is currently spending a lot of time together. His wife and son help him with stretches and physical therapy activities at home, and his daughters work with him on his speech. He improves every day, slowly regaining mobility and strength. Marla stated, “He’s a fighter, and a very strong man. It’s a slow process, and we thank God for where we’re at.”

Sean reflected on his time at St. Joe’s, sharing, “People were so helpful, every one of them. They were amazing, and always joked with me to keep my spirits up every day.” While his journey to recovery continues, with the help of St. Joe’s colleagues and his family, he has already come so far.

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