Rachel Scanlon Henry
In April 2003, Rachel S. Henry was a 30-year-old,
first-grade teacher in Worcester, Massachusetts. She was
in her doctor’s office for a checkup when “my vertebral
artery blew,” as she described it, and she had a brain
stem stroke. The arterial dissection (a tear, or damage to
the inner lining of an artery) was ultimately attributed to
a whiplash injury that had happened five years earlier.
She was in the hospital for three weeks, during which
she had PT and OT, and “they tried to start speech
therapy, but traditional methods were of no use,” she
said. Her major deficit was the inability to swallow
(severe dysphagia). “I had absolutely no swallow. I
couldn’t even swallow my own saliva. For nutrition, I
was on a drip for over a week, and then they installed a
PEG (Percutaneous Endoscopic Gastrostomy) feeding
tube in me. I learned how to manage a suction machine
Her doctors wanted her stable to begin deep
pharyngeal neuromuscular stimulation (DPNS), a
type of dysphagia treatment that involves stimulating
different points in the throat with a sensor or swab that
is frozen. “My speech therapist would jab and tap the
sensors in my mouth and throat in a certain sequence,”
Rachel said. “A swab can only be used for about 10
seconds. Their goal is to reawaken mechanisms that
Because she could not swallow and her only rehab
procedure was DPNS, she was discharged to a nursing
home — “All the inpatient rehab facilities wanted me
to have more than one deficit,” she said. Because of her
age and that she only received treatment for one hour a
day, the nursing home was not a good fit; she checked
herself out the first weekend and never went back.
In about two months, her dysphagia resolved
itself, but she had difficulties with her facial muscles.
Impaired tongue strength and speaking rate made her
speech unclear, but her speech improved. Other deficits
continue: “I have no sensation of heat or cold on the
entire right side,” she said. “I have no pain sensation on
that side. I cannot regulate my body heat, so changes in
temperature and humidity are difficult. Extreme weather
either way is very difficult.”
She developed spastic muscles on the left side of her
face and neck, and her trigeminal nerve, which controls
facial and jaw muscles, is spastic. She gets Botox in her
facial muscles twice a year. “The injections paralyze the
overreacting muscles, which allows me to breathe easier
and experience less pain in the head area. Otherwise, at
night, the aches and pains can make sleep tough,” she
said. “Also I can speak with greater ease after Botox.”
Typing is easier than writing longhand, and fatigue is
always nearby: “I have exhaustion that comes over me.
And I mean exhaustion.” It was
years before she overcame the
fear of having another stroke.
She returned to teaching
about 18 months post-stroke.
She was an in-school substitute
for a year before she got her
own classroom. As an ADA
accommodation, she was given
an assistant. Fatigue is still a
big issue, but she has been back
teaching sixth grade for 11 years.
Because of her stroke, her doctor told
Rachel she was unlikely to have a baby.
Then she got pregnant a month after
telling husband Tim that she couldn’t.
Survivor Rachel Scanlon Henry with son Jason and husband Tim