Neurology and Neurosurgery

Woman gives stroke rehabilitation her all, keeps trying to get better

Sixty-three-old woman is exercising in a rehabilitation gym after she had a stroke four years ago.


Connie Wilson has worked hard at neuro rehab to get back to driving, traveling and her life after having a stroke


Connie Wilson was about to ski down a mountain when her life changed forever. At 58 years old, she had a stroke while still strapped into her skis. For four years, she has continued to recover from that unforgettable day and life-threatening experience. Connie’s perseverance and progress are from her own strength, unwavering support from her wife, Kristina, and dedicated stroke rehabilitation therapists.


Stroke strikes on the slopes


On March 18, 2019, Connie went skiing because it was the last day of the season to ski on her favorite trail in New York. Connie did not know it would be the last time she skied.


Connie was on top of the mountain when all of a sudden she could not move her right hand.


“It was totally out of the blue,” Connie said.


“I did not know what was going on,” Connie said. “But then a woman came running to help me.”


“I am not sure how she knew I was in trouble, but she called a medic who immediately came with a sled,” Connie said. “I do not know her name and did not even talk to her, but she was kind and helpful and I will always be thankful for her.”


The ski patrol took Connie down the mountain to an ambulance. Connie remembers being in the ambulance and going to the closest hospital.


“I was at work when I got a call from Connie’s phone, but it was a man on the line. He said Connie was likely having a stroke and going to the hospital,” Kristina said. “I rushed out of work.”



Kristina left work immediately and sped up the Taconic State Parkway to the hospital. She even got pulled over but the police officer showed her kindness and let her go, and just asked that she drive safely.


Connie needed a higher level of care and was transferred from the first hospital to a larger medical center. She had two neuro-endovascular procedures to treat the stroke and then recovered in the hospital for two weeks.


“Connie had a major stroke and some scares during her recovery. At 5 a.m. one morning, she was in real trouble; the alarms were going off because her blood pressure was extremely high,” Kristina said.


Connie thankfully stabilized and was able to leave the hospital. But she needed inpatient rehabilitation because she could not talk, move her right arm or leg, or walk.


Getting stronger with stroke rehabilitation 


Connie needed inpatient rehabilitation and chose Nuvance Health’s Danbury Hospital, which has a 14-bed unit and is the only rehab facility in the area to provide multispecialty care. Patients have at least three hours of intensive rehab a day. 


For six weeks, Connie worked hard in inpatient rehab with speech therapists (ST), physical therapists (PT) and occupational therapists (OT).


“I was in bad shape,” Connie said.


The stroke affected the part of Connie’s brain responsible for speech and controlling the right side of her body.


“It was really frustrating and I was worried about my life,” Connie said. “But I was determined to get better.”


Connie was always a hard worker. She was a manager at a company and responsible for a large territory. Then, she was her mom’s full-time caregiver when she was sick with pancreatic cancer. Connie also tended to her and Kristina’s home and 3.5 acres of land in Sherman, Conn.


While at Danbury Hospital, Connie started talking and moving her right leg.


“One of the first things I could do was order breakfast and lunch, “Connie said. “My speech therapist was very encouraging and said it was a sign I was going to be okay.”


While on the rehab unit, physiatrists Dr. Beth Aaronson and Dr. Brian Riordan and rehabilitation nurses closely monitored Connie for potential stroke complications, including risk for pneumonia, heart rate and neurologic changes, limb swelling, blood clots, depression and pain.


As part of the rehab process, Paul Badger, the inpatient rehabilitation supervisor, guided Kristina on how to prepare their home for Connie. Their home is on three floors, but they arranged the first floor as the main living space and installed grab bars.


At home, Connie had Home Care and continued rehab.



“My Home Care therapists got me up and walking. At first, I was able to walk out to my deck,” Connie said.


After Home Care, Connie started outpatient rehab at Nuvance Health Physical Rehabilitation at Danbury, Main Street. She had specialized neuro rehab, including PT, OT and ST. The therapists at Physical Rehabilitation in Danbury are specially trained to help patients who are recovering from a brain injury.



Connie also continued seeing her physiatrist team, who coordinated her outpatient rehabilitation care. Her physiatrists helped manage her pain, administered shoulder injections to manage the spasticity in her right arm, and helped reduce the chances of post-stroke complications.


Connie worked hard for two years and regained a lot of her ability to talk and walk with some assistance.


When Connie progressed as much as possible in PT, OT and ST, her rehab team encourage her to try the specialized fitness program in the Main Street Physical Rehabilitation. Experienced professional exercise physiologists design personalized exercise programs for each patient. Although Connie was hesitant at first, she has really enjoyed exercising in the fitness gym.


Sixty-three-old woman is exercising in a rehabilitation gym after she had a stroke four years ago.


Sixty-three-old woman is exercising in a rehabilitation gym after she had a stroke four years ago.


Connie even went to five weeks of driver rehab in Meridian, Conn. so she could drive again. She got controls and a gas pedal installed on the left in her truck, passed a driving test and got her license back.


Continuing stroke rehab and moving forward after a stroke


It has been four years since Connie had a stroke, which is a date she will never forget because it is also Kristina’s birthday. Today, Connie said she feels “blessed” for all the support she has had from all her rehab therapists and for Kristina.


“I would be nowhere without the rehab teams at Danbury Hospital, Home Care and outpatient rehab,” Connie said about Paul Badger; Jennifer Kaminski, senior physical therapist; Nicole Theus, senior physical therapist; Hayley Love, speech-language pathologist, Vito Boffoli, senior occupational therapist; Rob Morse, supervisor of the fitness program and exercise physiologist; and Kate Norvell, exercise physiologist.


Sixty-three-old woman is exercising in a rehabilitation gym after she had a stroke four years ago.


“They were instrumental in the progress I made,” Connie said.


“I can walk, but cannot bend my right knee or ankle. I also did not regain movement in my right arm or hand because of the stroke,” Connie said. “But we worked on my right arm and hand for two years, and I am especially thankful to Vito for his patience and determination to help me.”



“Kristina is fantastic. She has always been there for me,” Connie said. “It has been a very long, hard road since I had a stroke, but Kristina has always done what was best for me.”


Connie still goes to the Nuvance Health Physical Rehabilitation gym twice a week.


“It is great to be around people, I am really glad my rehab team encouraged me to try it,” Connie said.



Connie sees Dr. Riordan about every three months for injections to relax the muscles in her right arm, help it hang more natural, and improve her gait when she walks.


Connie said she is a “Northeastern girl” and loved traveling with Kristina to New Hampshire, Vermont, Maine and Canada. They would ski in the winter and hike and windsurf in the summer.


“After the stroke, everything came to a screeching halt; that has been the most frustrating things for me,” Connie said. “But I am still working on getting back to the things I love to do.”


In fact, Connie and Kristina went on an Alaskan cruise, which included a trip to Seattle. They rented an electronic wheelchair with left-hand controls and were able to get around everywhere. They ended up buying an electronic wheelchair and van with a ramp so they can continue to travel. 

Connie Wilson in Ketchikan, Alaska standing in front of a large brown bear statue.


Watching out for stroke risk


Connie had high blood pressure but did not know it until she had the stroke.


“I never had any other health conditions. I never thought a stroke could happen to me,” Connie said.



High blood pressure is a risk factor for stroke. Someone might also be at higher risk for stroke if it is in their family. Connie knew her paternal grandma died from a stroke. After her stroke, she learned that all her grandparents had strokes. 


Connie of course wishes she did not have the stroke. But her experience might help protect her siblings from having strokes. Connie is the oldest of two sisters and a brother.


“They are getting checkups and managing their stroke risk,” Connie said.


“I had to work hard in rehab and at home, but I was always trying, and still am trying to get better,” Connie said.


Disclaimer: Outcomes from stroke vary from person to person. No individual results should be seen as typical.