Call it luck of the Irish, but Dan Sill feels incredibly fortunate to be alive. Without the support of family, friends and Sutter Health’s integrated healthcare system, he may not have survived two serious strokes.
I came into Alta Bates Summit in a wheelchair, and I walked out!
One Saturday in the summer of 2013, Dan, then a ranger at Lake Chabot Regional Park, left work with a terrible headache. When his symptoms persisted into Sunday, he called in sick. Later that day, his boss called to check in and realized Dan couldn’t answer simple questions like what day it was. Something was clearly wrong. He then called Dan’s daughter, who rushed him to the emergency department at Sutter Health’s Eden Medical Center.
They certainly came to the right place. Eden is designated a Primary Stroke Center by the Joint Commission and has earned the organization’s Gold Seal of Approval. Stroke teams include doctors, surgeons, nurses and support staff, plus full rehabilitation services, earning Eden the American Heart Association/American Stroke Association’s Gold Plus Quality Award.
After receiving care, Dan felt fine. “They gave me some medicine and I didn’t seem to have any lasting symptoms at all,” he says. “I didn’t pay much attention to the changes I should make in my life—and that was a big mistake.”
Just a few years later, Dan noticed that something felt amiss yet again. He called 911, but first responders didn’t identify signs of a stroke. Still concerned, his daughter took him back to Eden, where he was kept overnight for observation.
“That was another piece of luck, because the next morning I woke up paralyzed on my left side,” Dan says. “They saved my life.” He stayed at Eden for several days before being transferred to Alta Bates Summit Medical Center, also a Gold Plus Quality Award winner, near his home in Oakland for 28 days of rehabilitation.
Rehabilitating Toward Recovery
The fact that Dan has suffered two strokes is not all that uncommon. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nearly one in four strokes occurs in people who’ve had one previously. However, many are not as lucky as Dan. Some die, while others experience major physical challenges that can be permanent. Stroke is the number-one cause of disability in the U.S. and costs our nation an estimated $34 billion each year.
When Dan arrived at Alta Bates Summit for rehab, he was unable to walk. Progress was slow at first, and he felt himself slipping into depression. The physical therapists elevated his spirits by showing him he had indeed made progress and convinced him to try an exoskeletal machine, a wearable device that supports limb movement for increased strength and endurance.
“Research has shown that initiating gate therapy and trying the gait over and over again—that repetitive task practice—is really how we get gains in our patients,” says Kelly Baird, a physical therapist at Alta Bates Summit. “When Dan came in, he was having a really hard time walking—and walking was his main goal.”
With the help of the exoskeleton machine, Dan accomplished his goal. “I came into Alta Bates Summit in a wheelchair, and I walked out,” he marvels. “I’m not disabled today, and that saves me money and keeps me out of long-term care. I’ve returned to doing almost everything I used to—well, for a 78-year-old.”
The exoskeleton machine that helped Dan walk again was paid for by generous community members. After his story showcased what this amazing technology could do, the Rotary Club of Castro Valley and many individual, employee and physician donors joined forces to equip Eden with its own machine in 2019.
“I’ve never met any of those donors, but I can’t thank them enough,” Dan says. “I know these programs and technologies don’t come free, and the gifts help not only me but many others in the community as well.”
Moving Through Retirement
Determined to stay healthy for years to come, Dan is now 100% dedicated to eating a nutritious diet and getting regular exercise. Although he no longer works at Lake Chabot, he visits regularly to hike or fish with his son and grandson. Dan practices bouncing and catching a handball while walking around the court behind his house. He even drives.
“They had a model of a car at Alta Bates Summit rehab to practice getting in and out,” Dan says. “Then after about 10 days at home, my brother began helping me practice driving too. He took me to the DMV and I passed the test.
Dan has a disabled parking pass for his car these days, but he insists he doesn’t feel physically impaired. He is grateful to be living on his own, tending his garden and enjoying his family, friends and good fortune.