By Josh Jarman
Have you ever wondered why bad things happen to good people? Or, for that matter, marveled at how “good” people respond in times of crisis? Much can be learned from those who choose to rephrase the question above to why not me? Shirley Ellison, 60, of Deep Gap, NC, is one of those good people and her story will inspire you to see every new trial as an opportunity.
Ellison grew up in a farm house that her father built in Sugar Grove, NC. As a child, she attended Bethel Elementary School with her four siblings while her parents worked diligently to keep food on the table.
“None of us kids were afraid of hard work or pitching in to help out where we could,” she said with a grin. “That’s just what people did during those days. That’s what we still do.”
After high school, Ellison married and had three children of her own. During the years that followed, she proudly worked long hours in the hospitality industry to provide for her family.
“Having children was the greatest thing that has ever happened to me,” she said. “I just wish I could have spent more time with them while they were growing up.”
Stroke of misfortune
On January 29, 2017, Ellison suffered from an unexpected and completely debilitating stroke. A helicopter raced her unconscious body to a large medical center off the mountain. Later, her doctors informed the family that the stroke was caused by an inoperable brain aneurysm and that it was highly unlikely (due to neurological damage) that she would ever be able to move her right side, stand, walk or even speak again.
“No one wants to hear that they are likely to remain mute and essentially paralyzed for the rest of their life,” she said. “My husband and kids were driving down the mountain every day to check on me and I could not even form words to greet them. That was a dark time for our family, but we never lost hope and God answered our prayers with The Foley Center.”
Ellison credits divine intervention with the discovery of and her transfer to The Foley Center at Chestnut Ridge, Appalachian Regional Healthcare System’s new 112-bed post-acute-care center in Blowing Rock, NC. After her initial assessment, The Foley Center’s clinical team felt confident that with short-term rehabilitation, Ellison’s speech and functionality could be restored.
In February 2017, Ellison moved back “home” to the mountains and into The Foley Center as a short-term rehab patient. Her brightly colored room, which was conveniently located near the physical therapy gym, overlooked a beautiful courtyard and rolling hills leading up to the Blue Ridge Parkway.
During her initial team meeting, a personalized treatment and discharge plan was established. Her plan, which included daily speech therapy, occupational therapy and physical therapy, had an immediate impact.
After one week of speech therapy, she could speak basic words again.
After a month of occupational therapy, she could hold a pen and write sentences again.
After three months of physical therapy, she could stand and walk on her own again.
“I still cannot get over how positive and reassuring everyone was at The Foley Center,” she said. “No accomplishment was too small to celebrate. With that kind of support, it is hard not to start feeling better.”
Ellison was cleared to return home in April 2017. Today, she continues her road to recovery with weekly physical therapy appointments at The Rehabilitation Center, in Boone, NC.
“I feel like I have been given a second chance at life,” she said. “My stroke may have seemed like a bad thing at the time, but it forced me to slow down and spend more time with my family. For that, I consider it a blessing and I am grateful.”
Ellison’s daughter, Susan Busic said, “Things like this can either make you bitter in life or they can make your heart soften toward other people. Mom always looks for the best in every situation and she reminds us through word and action to do the same.”