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April's Stroke Story

Nov 13, 2019

“B.E. F.A.S.T.”

From not being able to speak, to now saying, “Rambo!” when our pet therapy dog comes for a visit, stroke survivor April Keene, 46, of Gadsden, truly has a story to tell. And, one day after guided rehab and recovery, she is determined to tell it from her own lips.

april-keene-390x190To recall April’s story, her husband, Jody Keene, took us back to June 12, a day their family will likely never forget.

“We have this process in our family that if we get a back-to-back phone call, then that is a signal that something is wrong,” Jody said. “And, she called me twice to let me know she felt something was wrong because she was struggling to find the right words.”

Jody said his wife shared with him she felt something was wrong and he immediately left work to come home. She had been home after taking her daughter to school, when she realized she couldn’t think of the right words when speaking.

April was on blood thinners from previous heart issues, so Jody began to look up signs of a stroke and landed on the BE FAST symptoms.

Soon, Jody got to their home and, after a brief interaction, Jody noticed an unevenness in her smile so he decided to take her to the emergency room.

april's-family-360x190Shortly after some time at that facility, at the recommendation of a friend, April wastransferred to Brookwood Baptist Medical Center for treatment under Brookwood’s interventional neurologist Dr. Jitendra Sharma (who is one of five in the state).

There are many questions ahead for this wife, mother of two (Lilly and Ella), daughter and friend. Will she have any limitations? Will things be the same?


Read more in the next post to learn more about April’s experience at Brookwood Baptist.

“They Felt Like Family”

For some, family is solely defined by blood ties, but after meeting the staff of Brookwood’s rehab unit, the Keene family will surely beg to differ.

April Keene suffered a stroke and became a patient on Brookwood’s inpatient rehab on June 24 and met a host of new friends who became family and would be instrumental in her road to recovery.


The inpatient rehab team recently achieved the CARF accreditation for their dedication to improving patient outcomes and it was evidenced through April’s occupational, physical and speech therapy sessions.

april-in-hospital-360x190“When the therapists come in, they are not just doing the motions, they look her in the eye and the care is on her,” Jody said. “For them, it’s not about just strengthening muscles such as her arm, but they are engaging her. It’s such a holistic approach.”

April was surrounded by her support system during her rehab journey, which included her mom and dad, alongside her husband Jody of almost 23 years.

“It has been like a family here to me,” April’s mom Susan McLendon said. “It’s just hard to explain and gives me chills just thinking about it.”

april-under-i-can-360x190Jody said when they got to the rehab floor they received a warm welcome. “There wasn’t any guest on the floor that the staff would pass where they didn’t call them by name,” he said.

April even met an additional supporter along the way, but this one happens to be a four-legged friend. Rambo, the hospital’s pet therapy dog gave April a visit one Tuesday while he was volunteering with his owner, Scott Landreth, a retired military veteran. Given April was missing her own dogs, she gladly welcomed Rambo with open arms.

april-sitting-with-nurse-360x190Recalling that April couldn’t speak when she was admitted into the hospital, it touched everyone in the room to hear her say, “Rambo!” in the most loving manner when he came for a visit.

Walking to April’s room, it wasn’t uncommon to hear laughter before you turned the hallway. Despite the situation, it was obvious the family was determined to remain in good spirits. As the Keene family was nearing the end of April’s stay, Jody was asked what was special about the rehab floor and his response was simply this: “It’s probably easier to answer that question by saying what’s not special about rehab?”

To further illustrate his point, Jody shared a moment during Aprils stay at Brookwood Rehab, which he shares is the essence of what it means to be treated in their care.

“From multiple different conversations with people, April had heard a lot about her upcoming road to recovery post her stroke. So in all the confusion that the stroke had caused for April, basically, she believed that someone told her that she would not be getting better for 5+ years or never,” Jody said.

He went on to say, “All of these thoughts came down on her during one of the very few therapy sessions that none of her family were with her. From what I understand, she burst into tears, which caught Eve (her OT) off guard. There was a female doctor across the hall that heard it and came in, as well as another therapist. While Eve can shed more light on April's state of being at that moment and facts of what occurred but from what I understood, she was just shy of hysterical.”

Jody also shared, “I’m told they were able to help calm April down with soft spoken words and all of them bowing near April to pray aloud for and with her. I can only imagine the urgency and chaos of the moment. However, the reaction of the staff was not something that can be necessarily trained. I can only assume but from my perspective, it was a major statement to what is important to Brookwood and the kind of people they hire and choose to represent Brookwood. It’s not just about documenting what you know, it’s about proving how much your heart cares.”

Stroke Education & April’s Road to Recovery

Including comments from interventional neurologist Dr. Jitendra Sharma
Stroke Education: Some say time is money and for others time is of the essence, but for stroke patients, “Time is BRAIN.”

April Keene, is a patient of Dr. Sharma’s and he used this phrase to describe why it is so important to act quickly when someone is having a stroke.

“We want people to know time is brain. When someone is having a stroke, there is blood clot that is stopping the blood flow to the brain. As soon as someone has that clogged vessel, brain cells begin to die (studies show that every minute more than two million brain cells die during a stroke),” Dr. Sharma said. “So we recommend if someone has sudden symptoms of things such as face weakness, arm weakness or speech problems, they should call 911 and come to Brookwood.”

Extending Our Reach: Dr. Sharma said April had a left MCA stroke, which caused damage to her brain on the left side.

“April was not a candidate for any emergent treatment, but she was transferred here for monitoring to make sure she was stable and for us to offer treatment to prevent future strokes,” Dr. Sharma said. “We accept transfers from all over the state.”

The stroke team at Brookwood Baptist is home to one of five interventional neurologists in the state of Alabama and also received the Get With the Guidelines Elite Plus award by the American Heart Association. Being able to provide this level of care, the stroke program at Brookwood is able to serve not only Birmingham, but also other areas across the state.

Road to Recovery: As a result of the stroke, April has experienced global aphasia, which is a severe form of nonfluent aphasia, caused by damage to the left side of the brain, which affects receptive and expressive language skills.

April’s Timeline of Hospital Stay
June 14 – SICU until June 17 then to a stepdown unit
June 17 – June 23 – then moved to rehab
June 23 – Evaluation
June 24 – Day 1 of Rehab
July 26- Day of Discharge

As April now continues her outpatient rehab visits, Dr. Sharma shares more about her recovery. “We will continue to monitor April’s progress, but this is where rehab will be very important for her. With the right outpatient rehab facility, April will have a good road to recovery.”

Nikesha Upshaw, manager of therapy services said April will go to an outpatient facility that is specific for neurological patients in order to continue her therapy.

Another offering of Brookwood’s rehab program allows for a home visit, so therapists can make recommendations on the home setup.

“Before April gets discharged, our team will go into her home and do a home evaluation,” she said. “They will make recommendations based on set up and share what they feel is best for them.”

“Not a Coincidence, It’s a God Thing!”

A first person reflection about Brittney Knox's, Marketing Manager, experience getting to know our patient April Keene and her family. Readers should note this section is no reflection of the hospital views or beliefs.


As a marketer for a hospital, you oftentimes get to praise the great care provided at your facility, but this time I was privileged to witness it with my own eyes. A couple of months ago, I was called to write a story about a young woman who had suffered a stroke. Sometimes after I listen to a recorded interview, the story just flows from my brain to the computer keys, but with other stories, I find myself staring at a blank screen for a tad bit longer.

And, this was one of those that took a bit longer. It was a bit heavier. I knew April had some heart issues in her health history, but it rattled me how in just a matter of moments her life changed. She’s young - she’s only 46 years old!

It was Wednesday, Sept. 11 and I was supposed to be off campus due to some meetings. But, I left some materials at work that I would need for an early morning meeting on Thursday, so I decided to stop in my office.

For some reason, that Wednesday morning, I resurrected my story notes about April and the videos I had taken. I even reached out to her neurologist to request a meeting to discuss her case, so I could get additional quotes for the story.

As I was making my rounds checking signs around the hospital, I happened to see a lady who I thought looked awfully familiar, but in my rush, I didn’t stop her and inquire more. But, when I came back through the lobby, the missing puzzle pieces had returned and I was able to see the full picture. It was April and her family in the front lobby! My gasp and awe was definitely apparent when I met them with an embrace. April was on a walking stick and was able to speak some words! It was great to see her with her daughter this time, who I heard so much about during our interview.

I began to tell them how I wasn’t planning to come to the hospital and I shared about my email request I just sent Dr. Sharma that morning about April! Well, they could have delivered the message for me because April had just come from a clinic visit in Dr. Sharma’s office. I just kept thinking to myself, “There’s something special about this story. This just keeps getting better and better!”

I learned they were preparing to go and surprise the rehab staff and I couldn’t help but to invite myself for that reunion.

I laughed with the family as we rode up to the floor and I said, “They are going to totally think I was in on this!” Jody laughed with me and said, “Yeah, let’s tell them you knew all about it.”

Getting off the elevator with them was such a beautiful sight! The smiles of some of the nurses faces were as though they were in awe of the person they saw, who just months ago couldn’t do the things she now can do. Her progress was phenomenal, but patience would be key to see it all through. Isn’t that true about a lot of things in life?

April walked down to the therapy services manager’s office, Nikesha, who was chatting with Amy Wiley, director of rehab services. I knew how much they both cared about April, so I couldn’t wait to see their faces when April entered the office. Hearing Nikesha scream was priceless. It was almost as if her own child had taken his or her first steps all over again. The happiness was truly indescribable.

And, just as I thought, Nikesha asked, “Brittney, were you in on this? You knew about this?” After attempting a devious…”perhaps,” I had to come clean and share the story about despite how big and how many people are on Brookwood’s campus, our paths happen to cross in the main lobby.

“Oh that’s no coincidence, it’s a God thing!” Amy Wiley said. I definitely agreed with her. I was so blessed by seeing all the love the staff showed to April and her family.

After a day like that and a story like this, there is no way I will never forget that day nor the lessons everyone can learn from April’s story.

Things such as:
  • Never Give Up
  • Patience is Key
  • Spread Joy, Laugh Often
  • Share Your Story to Encourage Others
  • Hold on Tight to Your Support System
Personally, I want to thank you for reading this reflection and I also hope you enjoyed learning more about our rehab program and our stroke team. These teams are doing amazing work in the lives of so many. Additionally, I hope you enjoyed meeting April and her family. I am so grateful to them for allowing me to become the “distant cousin,” (which became our little joke) who they allowed to hang around to take video, snap some memories and make a solid effort to craft their testimony into words.