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David’s story: Relearning the alphabet, how to walk and how to play after ischemic stroke at age 6

David Denman’s family was told he may never walk or talk again after a stroke in first grade. His family shares their journey through U-M’s Milestones

BlogDavidDen1This is the first of an eight-part blog series recognizing the 25th anniversary for both the Pediatric NeuroRehabilitation program at Milestones and MedRehab program

Two years ago, our son David was playing soccer, and he came off the field holding his head, saying he had the worst headache of his life. He collapsed, lost control of the right side of his body, experienced palsy and couldn’t answer us. I realized he was having a stroke and immediately called 911. He was six and a half years old at the time.

First responders said it was unlikely that David was having a stroke, but we insisted he be taken to a hospital for a CAT scan. David had had an ischemic stroke due to a blood clot. We think this developed from hitting his head during a neighborhood football game a few weeks before, but we are still not sure what happened.

We were at the University of Michigan’s C.S. Mott Hospital for 30 days, six of which were in the ICU, and the rest of which were spent on a rehab floor. Before the stroke, he was a fluent reader, very athletic and bright. After the stroke, he lost the ability to recognize letters and their sounds and couldn’t identify common objects.

Initially we were told that he would never walk, talk or use his right hand again. Our neurologist wasn’t sure what the future would hold, because the staff had not had much experience with this type of trauma in a patient who was so young. Then we went to U-M’s Pediatric NeuroRehabilitation Program at Milestones. The staff there was optimistic, and David eventually relearned the alphabet, how to walk, and accomplished so much more. He hasn’t regained the full use of his right hand, but it’s now considered a helping hand, and he’s found ways to adapt to what’s happened to him.

BlogDavidDen3David attended a full comprehensive program five days a week for the first two years following the stroke, as these are the most important years for recovery following this type of trauma. He worked with Anne Chadwick OT, Kendra Vanwasshenova, PT and Ann Comstock, ST each day. He also attended sessions with a staff psychologist, and took part in art therapy and recreational therapy programs. All of these components gave David confidence, understanding and acceptance. It wasn’t just learning how to move and speak again — it also gave him a chance to process what had happened to him, and taught him how to express himself and to play again.

David defied the odds, and we have our experience with Milestones to thank for that.

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best children's hospitalsUniversity of Michigan C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital is consistently ranked one of the best hospitals in the country. It was nationally ranked in all ten pediatric specialties in U.S. News Media Group’s “America’s Best Children’s Hospitals,” and among the 10 best children’s hospitals in the nation by Parents Magazine. In December 2011, the hospital opened our new 12-story, state-of-the-art facility offering cutting-edge specialty services for newborns, children and women.