Michael Cairl's Story
The staff at NewYork-Presbyterian Brooklyn Methodist Hospital are outstanding professionally, tremendous personally, and I believe they saved my life.
Michael Cairl believes it’s important to find an opportunity for advancement when faced with adversity. The 63-year-old Park Slope resident serves as a member of many volunteer organizations in his neighborhood and throughout Brooklyn with hopes to improve his community.
When he was faced with a life-altering health event, he used it as an opportunity to help himself and others.
On Nov. 4, 2018, Michael was at church with his husband, Jim, when he began to feel a tingling sensation on his left side. The feeling continued throughout brunch. As the tingling persisted into the afternoon, Michael told Jim he wasn’t feeling well and needed to go to the emergency room. Recognizing that the sensation could mean something serious, Michael immediately went to the emergency room at NewYork-Presbyterian Brooklyn Methodist Hospital.
At the hospital, Michael was quickly evaluated by the emergency department staff and was given blood-thinning medication to treat what they suspected was a stroke. Michael was admitted to the hospital and given an MRI test, which showed that he had had a brain stem stroke.
A brain stem stroke is a potentially deadly condition that affects the blood supply to areas of the brain vital to essential life support functions. All of the signals from the brain travel through the brain stem to different parts of the body. When blood flow in the brain stem is interrupted by a stroke-causing blood clot, those brain signals can’t get to the body. This is why Michael experienced the tingling sensation on his left side.
“As I was in the emergency room, I was wiggling my fingers and toes. I gradually lost the ability to do that. And I lost my ability to walk,” Michael says. After two days in the neurology step down unit, Michael was transferred to the inpatient rehabilitation program at NewYork-Presbyterian Brooklyn Methodist Hospital, where he says the staff taught him to walk and regain skills that were once second nature.
With three hours of physical therapy and occupational therapy six days a week, Michael was driven to get back to normal as quickly as possible. “I told [the staff] recovery is my job, I don’t have any other reason to be here. I wanted as much rehab as they could give me,” he says. “It was occasionally physically tiring, and it was always challenging, but it was my job.”
Over the next five weeks, Michael began to regain strength on his left side. He was taught the various elements of a stride and was challenged with a variety of exercises to strengthen his grip to complete tasks like buttoning buttons and holding a cup. He was soon able to walk, lift his arm, and eventually dress himself. He attributes his success, in part to, to the caring people in the rehabilitation staff.
“The staff at NewYork-Presbyterian Brooklyn Methodist Hospital are outstanding professionally, tremendous personally, and I believe they saved my life,” he says. “When I was lying the ER, I had no idea what to expect. But the people in the hospital, in the rehab department, gave me a program. They were encouraging. They were people I liked to be with. If there is a way to make a long stay in a hospital good, they did it.”
On December 13, Michael was released from inpatient rehab to a nursing and rehabilitation facility in Ditmas Park, before returning home. He says he has regained most of his strength on his left leg and is building up his power in his left arm. He continues to do the exercises he learned at the hospital and obtained a therapy tricycle he uses to help regain strength and mobility in his hands and legs.
“I’ve been riding [my tricycle] around my neighborhood up to four miles at a time. On one of those occasions three of the people from NewYork-Presbyterian Brooklyn Methodist rehab joined me after I told them I didn’t want to ride alone,” Michael says.
Since having his stroke, Michael has made many changes in his life. He’s recently lost more than 40 pounds and has added to the number of organizations in which he volunteers.
“The stroke has turned out to be, in a strange way, a gift. It has made me a lot more attuned to issues of accessibility. I’m pivoting my volunteer life in that direction,” he says. He has been named to a new advisory board for New York City Transit (NYCT), which is aimed at advising NYCT on how to make the transit system more accessible. “I feel like I have to make something of this — it’s not what I do about the stroke, it’s what I do with the stroke.”