How to relearn to walk

“You have to believe, ‘Today is the day I’m going to walk,'” said Brady Johnson, a former senior airman with the U.S. Air Force from...


“You have to believe, ‘Today is the day I’m going to walk,'” said Brady Johnson, a former senior airman with the U.S. Air Force from Belvidere, Ill., Who suffered a catastrophic stroke in 2004 while surgery for a cerebral hemorrhage. Johnson was once a healthy 31-year-old man training for a marathon. The next thing he knew, he was waking up from a weeklong coma, unable to speak or walk. “The first day was terrible for me,” he says. “But on day 2, I said, ‘It’s a war.’ Someone has a stroke every 40 seconds in the United States; One of the leading causes of severe long-term disability is stroke. In rehabilitation, you’ll likely start by lifting your legs in bed, switching to a therapist-supported walker, and working your way up to a cane. Johnson continued to walk without a cane although he never regained the feeling on the right side. He can’t run anymore, which frustrates him, so he turned to competitive weight training instead.

Practice your balance. At first, Johnson stood with a book to work his hand and right arm with his left hand. Strengthen your muscles. “Don’t just sit there,” says Johnson, who does leg exercises during each commercial when he watches TV. Be prepared to do a lot of the work on your own. Johnson’s medical insurance covered eight weeks of rehabilitation and physiotherapy. He knows of other stroke survivors who have received half that amount, even when relearning can take a lifetime of hard work and discipline. “It’s something I’ll always learn,” says Johnson.

Don’t look down on your feet. You must extend your gaze far. “Keep your chin up and your shoulders down,” Johnson says. Be prepared to fall; you will be. When Johnson trained without his cane, he chose a path along a grassy lawn for a softer landing. If you can, watch the toddlers. Three years after his stroke, Johnson and his wife had a baby boy. Watching his son learn to walk offered the most profound lesson of all. Never shaken by doubt, the boy took to the task with playful resilience. “He would fall, look at me, tip over, get up and walk away,” Johnson says. “I saw it and I was like, this is what I have to do.”

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