Stroke: Jordie Krimstein's Story
Painting a Portrait of Stroke Recovery
Jordan “Jordie” Krimstein couldn’t figure out how to put on his favorite white sweatshirt. He had done it hundreds of times before, but on this May morning in 2005 the recently retired 73-year-old creative advertising director was at a complete loss.
Concerned, Krimstein and his wife visited a doctor who sent them immediately to a hospital near their north suburban Chicago home for a CAT scan of his brain. As Krimstein walked out of the dressing room after putting his clothes back on, he fell unconscious and collapsed into the arms of his wife and daughter.
When he awoke the next morning, Krimstein learned he had suffered a stroke that resulted in weakness and partial paralysis on the left side of his body.
Although Krimstein was retired, he led an active lifestyle centered around his primary passion —painting water colors. Being left-handed, facing the prospect of not being able to do what he loved was frightening. Krimstein had been trained as a painter at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and still served on its board of governors. During retirement he revisited his passion for painting and hoped to begin showing his work at art gallery exhibitions.
Krimstein’s active lifestyle made him a perfect candidate the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago’s (RIC) Prime of Life Stroke Rehabilitation Program, which is designed for people with full lives and offers an aggressive course of specialized therapies built around a patient’s specific interests or goals.
In Krimstein’s case, that meant painting. With his room at RIC directly overlooking Lake Michigan it didn’t take long for him to ask his wife to bring him his watercolor paints. “The sunrises were beautiful,” he says.
One day, Krimstein’s doctor, Ross Bogey, M.D., noticed he was painting using his right hand instead of his dominant left hand. Later that day, when Krimstein returned to his room from a therapy session, he was puzzled to see what looked like a large white boxing glove lying on the middle of his bed.
“You’re supposed to wear this on your right hand every day for at least five hours,” read a note from Dr. Bogey attached to the glove “You’re on the honor system.”
Krimstein soon learned that what he thought was an oversized boxing glove was actually a piece of restraint equipment that was intended to prevent him from using his right hand, forcing him to develop function in his weaker left hand. This innovative technique, known as Constraint-Induced Movement Therapy, forces a patient to use the arm and hand that has been affected by stroke with the hope of stimulating new areas of the brain to learn new functions.
Marked Improvement Comes With Dedication
As instructed, Krimstein wore the glove and before long, noticed an improvement in his left hand's mobility. “It made me start to learn to use my left hand again,” says Krimstein, “and before you know it, I was getting stronger and more controlled in my motions.”
“That looks good,” Dr. Bogey would comment on his painting when he dropped by Krimstein’s room and looked over his shoulder.
In addition to restraint therapy, Krimstein also worked with speech language pathologists to fine tune his cognitive and communication skills and received physical therapy, which included walking, stair climbing and stretching to improve his endurance and balance.
"Jordie worked his butt off when he was here, and his response to the Constraint-Induced Movement Therapy was dramatic and even better than I expected,” said Dr. Bogey. “He really zoomed. I was giddy about it. How do you put into words how you feel when a patient has that kind of recovery and it's because you contributed some way to it? It's exactly why you go into medicine."
Graduation from Rehabilitation
As Krimstein prepared to leave RIC’s Prime of Life Program after six weeks, he handed Dr. Bogey a gift –five portraits he had completed of other patients and one of the doctor himself. “Thanks to you, this experience was wonderful,” he told him, “and I look forward to getting back to painting, which is what I love most and what you have helped me to be able to continue doing.”
"It was really touching. The one he did of me is hanging on my office wall next to my desk,” said Bogey.
After “graduating” from RIC as an inpatient, as Krimstein puts it, he continued his therapy as an outpatient at RIC’s Northshore satellite office, not far from his home. Four days a week, an RIC van picked him up at home in the morning and took him back around lunch after he was finished. Krimstein continued to work with therapists on regaining his strength, stamina and balance and developed his fine motor skills by repeatedly buttoning shirts and folding articles of clothing.
Krimstein stopped his outpatient therapy after three months and is now actively painting with his left hand as precisely as he did before his injury. He has resumed his full schedule of activities and is preparing for an exhibition of his watercolors at a downtown Chicago art gallery this fall.
Krimstein said he will never forget RIC’s staff, especially Dr. Bogey and his big white boxing glove. Because of their compassion, he describes the therapists in the Northshore satellite office as “angels” and said, “It just blew me away the way they handled their patients.”
“RIC made my whole experience seem like a piece of cake,” he added. “The people there made it warm and friendly. There is a feeling of pride you sense throughout the staff. There is no question the people make the place.”