Stroke: John Murphy's Story - Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago

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John Murphy's Story

Up and Running Again

John Murphy ran a 5k race one year post-stroke

John Murphy ran a 5k race one year post-stroke
and raised over $11,000

John Murphy began his rehabilitation journey in 2005. John or "Johnny Go-Go" as he is called, got his nickname for good reason; while growing up in Massachusetts, he was the National High School Cross Country Champion; a record holder on the track team at Harvard University with a four minute mile; and in 1992, he finished 25th at the Chicago Marathon, the largest marathon in the United States.

In 2005, John returned to Chicago to run the challenging Chicago Marathon for the fifth time. During the 23rd mile of the 26.2 mile race, he began to feel dizzy and lost part of his vision. As a seasoned runner, he thought that these were signs of dehydration, but he proceeded to pick up his pace to finish the race in 03:06:07.

Later that night, while celebrating with family members at a local bowling alley, his hamstring severely cramped up. While on the ground stretching, John experienced numbness in one of his arms and was unable to get up. A bystander noticed this irregularity and called 911.

"I couldn't get up and couldn't move anything on the left side of my body," said John, "I remember doctors poking a pin into my foot to see if I could feel anything, but I couldn't. It was shocking."

At the age of 45, John, an active runner and successful marketing executive, had a stroke.

"Doctors called it a dissection of the right carotid artery, but essentially it was a freak accident," he said. "It was a condition I was genetically disposed to and never knew."

After four days in the ICU at a local Chicago acute care hospital, John was admitted to the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago (RIC) to begin rehabilitation.

Returning to the Prime of Life

He was admitted to the RIC Prime of Life Stroke Rehabilitation Program, which is designed for people with stroke whose active lives demand more aggressive intervention. The program focuses on not only rehabilitating people after a stroke, but also educating them about preventing complications and subsequent strokes.

"John was a good candidate for our Prime of Life program because he was young, had no major medical complications, was previously very active in work and, as a runner, had a drive to get back to his previous active lifestyle," said Dr. Richard Harvey, medical director of the stroke rehabilitation program at RIC. "He understood the Prime of Life program and its goals to return active people back to active lives through aggressive therapies."

"I encountered RIC at a critical point in my recovery," said John, "I felt I really got the level of attention and motivation I needed to make good progress."

As part of the Prime of Life program, John worked with physical therapists to regain strength and coordination on his affected left side. Specific exercises prescribed by the therapists helped John regain his balance and, eventually, the ability to walk again.

"I rolled in on a gurney unable to move at all," said John, "And I walked out twirling my cane like Charlie Chaplin." Now, he doesn't even need the cane to get around. He has even returned to hitting golf balls and running.

In occupational therapy, therapist Lori Bravi worked with John to regain daily functionability like dressing, grooming and re-engaging into his daily activties.

"One of his goals included sending e-mails to co-workers and friends," said Lori. "At first, it took some help for John to address fixing some of his typing errors and to also enable him to streamline his thoughts. But, today, he is doing a fabulous job e-mailing all of us almost weekly with new updates."

"John is an exceptionally determined individual, and because of his persistence and enthusiasm, he is, once again, independently living every aspect of his life," she continued.

Everyday Challenges

John also participated in recreational therapy. To motivate John and show him the progress he had made in rehabilitation, recreational therapists took John to a local Chicago driving range where he was able to receive golf instruction from Patrick Byrne, the Disability Golf Instructor.

"This activity had the physical therapeutic benefit of an exercise that challenged the use of my affected arm and leg," said John.

Community Reintegration Training was another very important focus for John.

"It's important for patients to feel comfortable and safe within various community settings," said Brienne Costa, director of the Thereputic Recreation department. "As an activity he enjoyed prior to his stroke, John, his sister and a recreational therapist took a trip to the Museum of Contemporary Art where they also had lunch. During the outing, he was encouraged to learn how to problem solve for barriers and situations that may arise in a real life scenario."

"Our main goal in Recreation Therapy was to assist John in gaining as much independence as possible to resume and maintain a healthy leisure lifestyle after having a stroke," she continued. "John was also an inspiration to the other patients within the Prime of Life program. His quick wit and sense of humor always made him the center of the group."

John also admits that the group dynamic that developed through activities and outings was a valuable contribution to the experience of going through recovery.

"I could see how rapport developed during group activities blossomed into supportive and empathetic relationships between the program participants on the eighth floor during my stay," he said.

The Best Care

"Having been a runner all these years, I have nursed two broken ankles and plenty of sprains and strains through physical therapy, so I thought I knew what rehabilitation was going to be like. But the therapists and doctors at RIC were constantly educating me on how and why they had me do what I was doing," said John, "I have never encountered that level of interaction in rehabilitation before and I think it made all the difference in empowering me to work harder."

This is a program by design and no doubt a product of research and a commitment to providing the best possible experience to address the physical and emotional challenges of my recovery," he said.


Today John has returned to work in Austin, Texas as a marketing executive with a software provider. He is running again, traveling and playing golf.

In late spring, less than a year after his stroke, he returned to RIC to visit his therapists and others from the stroke program.

"John and I joke around about running the 2007 Chicago Marathon because we were both in the marathon on that October morning in 2005," said Lori. "When he left RIC as an inpatient, the last thing he said to me was, "See you at the finish line!" I have no doubt that I will see him there next October."

"I am so grateful for the quality of the care I received at RIC," said John. "I'm still amazed at this miraculous recovery."