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Powering Ahead

Rebecca Wasil shows people how to “own their power” through her recovery from a stroke

Rebecca Wasil’s office is filled with art.

There are woven bands of fabric and whimsical streetscapes of Pueblo all done by her students at Pueblo Community College. Then there’s the small kaleidoscope of zinnias from her personal garden that sits on her desk, overlooking a poster that’s stuck onto the desk’s side that offers a humorous apology that her brain might not be working correctly.

To any outsider, the office is reminiscent of someone who loves her job and has been entrenched there for a while. But for Rebecca, who works as the disability resources advisor at PCC, it’s a testament to what she’s been through and the mileposts ahead of her.

“It’s really important for me to help people own their power and to empower them,” she said. “It’s big part of my recovery.”

On Oct. 7, 2017, Rebecca woke up, walked into her bathroom and had no idea what to do next.Rebecca Wasil

“I woke up in the morning and I couldn’t figure out how I had gotten into the bathroom or what I was supposed to do when I got there,” she said. “In pure confusion I tried to call out to my husband, Ron, but as it turns out the words didn’t make any sense.”

The Wasils live a few blocks away from Parkview Medical Center and immediately made their way to the hospital’s emergency room. Rebecca said she was brought back into the ER almost immediately as the triage team correctly determined she was having a stroke.

Even as the confusion persisted, Rebecca said she never felt much fear.

“I can remember I had vision loss and everything looked like it was in a big fish-eye lens,” she said. “I felt fine. I was lying on the gurney thinking these people were awfully nice.”

The trip to the emergency room would mark the beginning of a two-week stay at Parkview Medical Center, followed by a yearlong effort to regain and improve her cognitive function.

Rebecca spent her first week in Parkview’s stroke unit and was then transferred to the inpatient rehabilitation unit for her second week.

During her stay, Rebecca worked with Parkview’s physical, occupational and speech therapists to put her on the road to recovery.

There were challenges. Rebecca has spent much of her professional life in education, so relearning how to read, write and speak, let alone mastering basic tasks like balance and navigating around the home, was daunting.

“When I got to the inpatient rehab, I thought ‘I don’t even know what to do or where to start,” she said. “All of my therapists were great. I can’t say enough about how capable, kind and interested they were in helping me.”

Rebecca said she would ask her therapists for “homework;” exercises she could do in her room. Her friends brought crayons to her to draw figures. Rebecca said she drew a figure of a boxer with large gloves on as a reminder that she was in a fight.

When she was discharged from Parkview, Rebecca said she asked her husband to build a support group of everyone they knew so she could to continue retraining her brain. She played games with children, drew pictures and joined Parkview’s Stroke Survivors support group.

“I hate bingo,” she said of one of her first outings with the group. “But it turns out it was one of the best things I could do. There are different people in the stroke group who have different effects from their strokes. People who didn’t have cognitive effects were able to help those of us who did and we could help those with physical effects.”

Rebecca WasilThe Parkview rehab team continued to work with her on weekly checkups and she continued to work on improvements. Where she was once ale to do the New York Times crossword puzzles, she was now starting over with the easiest puzzles available.

She returned to journaling, even though it was a challenge. Throughout it all, Rebecca said, she was focused on returning to work.

The experience has given her a new perspective on the challenges her own students face. She said she’s worked with autistic students at PCC and can better appreciate how some can struggle to express themselves or articulate what’s happening in their lively minds.

“Any of us can become changed at any time, so our whole perspective changes,” she said.

After four months of hard work, Rebecca was able to return to PCC full time.

 A year later her journals have improved and she’s able to complete the Sunday crossword in her local paper. She continues to participate in the Stroke Support Group and serves on Parkview Medical Center’s Patient Advisory Board.

There are many milestones ahead. She still has eyes on the New York Times puzzles and Rebecca continues to work with her friends, family and Parkview Medical Center to reach her goals.

 “The main thing I try to do is help students achieve their potential,” she said. “I know for myself, you can give up too quickly,” she said. “It’s amazing the capacity we have to improve our brains, to use our brains and be positive.”

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400 West 16th Street, Pueblo, CO 81003