Massive stroke causes Janesville man to be 'locked in'

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Anna Marie Lux
Wednesday, September 11, 2013

JANESVILLE—More than a year ago, Tim Cromwell often could be found fishing or camping with his family and friends.

Today, the 46-year-old Janesville man is completely paralyzed but fully aware of what is happening around him.

The father of three has a rare neurological disorder known as locked-in syndrome.

The only way Tim can communicate with his wife, Angie, and others is by moving his eyes. An upward glance means yes. A downward glance means no.

On June 24, 2012, Tim suffered a minor cerebellum stroke. The next day he had a second massive stroke in his brain stem, which left him without movement.

He could hear. He could see. He could even feel the bed sheets.

But he could not speak or make any vocalizations. The harrowing condition leaves fully conscious patients unable to communicate, even though they are capable of understanding.

Tim's initial prognosis was grim.

“The neurosurgeon did not believe he would make it,” Angie said. “People with his condition only live three to six months because they tend to get pneumonia, which is usually what kills them. But Tim has surprised everyone so far.”

Tim lives at Janesville's Rock Haven Nursing Home, where a feeding tube gives him nourishment and a hole in his windpipe helps him breathe.

Angie looks forward to the day when he can come home.

“He is much more stable than he was,” she said. “But he needs a nurse all the time. He's told me that he wants to come home. It will help him to be around his family.”

Tim's health insurance covers only a portion of his medical care, so friends and family are hosting a golf fundraiser for him Saturday. They hosted a golf fundraiser in 2012, which raised money to build a handicapped-accessible ramp to Tim's home and to buy him a hospital bed. Some 112 golfers attended.

Saturday's event organizers are Chad Perkins and Lea and Shannon Gerue.

Tim has good days and bad days.

“It's got to be frustrating when all you have are your eyes to communicate,” Perkins said. “He was in good shape. You just never know when things can change instantly.”

Before his strokes, Tim worked as a mortgage lender and enjoyed playing darts, bowling, softball and golf. Since his stroke, he has regained limited movement in his arms and hands.

“Brain injuries leave a lot of questions and not a lot of answers,” Angie said. “The experts are unable to say if Tim will ever regain full movement or the ability to speak.”

Angie has connected online with other people who had strokes and became locked-in.

“These people were once extremely independent and are now dependent on others to take care of them,” she said. “They say they are in their own personal living hell. They know what is going on but can't participate.”

Angie is trying to create more awareness about locked-in syndrome so patients get the continuous care and therapy services they need, she said.

Several months ago, the Veterans Administration provided Tim, an Army veteran, with a specialized communication device. He controls the device with his eyes.

“He can tell people what he needs and how he is feeling,” Angie said. “Once he gets proficient with it, he can talk to us.”

Angie believes in her husband.

“He's a fighter,” she said. “He meets a challenge head-on to overcome it. We pray for a full recovery, but I'll be happy if he gets enough recovery to come home.”

She offers him regular encouragement.

“The biggest thing to remember for someone going through something like this is not to give up on them,” Angie said. “As long as Tim knows there are people who believe in him, he will keep fighting.”

Anna Marie Lux is a columnist for The Gazette. Her columns run Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays. Call her with ideas or comments at (608) 755-8264, or email amarielux@gazettextra.com.

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