Patty Geer moved to Florida 30 years ago with dreams of working for Disney. But a chance interview at a job fair landed her a position, and eventually a career in finance, with the Hyatt Hotels Corporation.
Work has been a big focus of her life ever since. So when she suffered a stroke two years ago, one of Patty’s first thoughts was when she could return to her job.
“I was 51 years old and too young for the rest of my life to be over.” – Patty Geer, survivor of stroke
“I was in the hospital and thought I’d better catch up on emails. I pulled out my phone and couldn’t read a thing. The nurse told me that the stroke had affected my vision and ability to read. When they brought in flashcards and I couldn’t name simple things like a hammer or pencil, I cried. I realized my recovery was going to have to be my work.”
Research published in 2018 in the AHA/ASA Stroke Journal shows that returning to work can be good for your recovery if you’ve suffered a mild to moderate stroke. “Being employed before a stroke and returning to work after can be particularly helpful for people in mentally stimulating [occupations], such as teacher, lawyer, executive, engineer. Working in these kinds of jobs activates several interconnected areas in the brain and enhances brain plasticity,” says Dr. Hen Hallevi, head of the neurology department at Tel Aviv Sourasky Medical Center, and one of the study’s co-authors.
After a week at the hospital, Patty started stroke rehab and was introduced to Constant Therapy. Much of her in-clinic and at-home work in the app was focused on object recognition. “That is where my friend the rhinoceros entered my life. A picture of it kept coming up in the app, but I could not remember what it was called. I would get so frustrated, and the more I thought about that rhinoceros, the more it came up in all the exercises.”
Patty made it her short term goal to learn to say the word “rhinoceros”. Longer term, her goals for recovery were to improve reading and be able to drive, in order to go back to work.
“The assignments that I worked on at home with the Constant Therapy app were a critical part of my recovery. They kept my mind working, they kept me constantly growing and improving. I took it in steps, and the app works that way too, guiding your recovery forward a step at a time. Each time I finished an exercise or moved to the next level, it gave me the confidence to think I could return to work.”
And return she did, just three and a half months after her stroke.
“Ironically, the stroke did not affect my ability to see numbers and understand numbers, which given my job was quite a blessing. But my reading continued to be a challenge. My colleagues knew I wanted to be able to contribute to the success of our team, so they worked with me to make sure I wasn’t just sitting in a chair. For example our IT Manager, Debbie, set up my computer with software so that it would read my emails to me. That really helped.”
The joy of returning to work was overshadowed by touch and go moments, and a particular low point one day. “I shut my door and thought I can’t do this. It’s too hard. Sobbing, I called my mentor Pat, who I had worked with for 20 years. I asked her to help me figure out a way to exit gracefully. She said to remember I was early in my recovery, to keep going, and to call her if I felt the same way in six months. Well, I didn’t need to make that call because six months later I was thriving again.
What about the rhino? Today Patty knows what it is, and can call it by name. It’s even become her power animal. And while her reading has improved, her vision has not, so Patty’s goal to drive is still on hold. Her best friend Lisa drives her to and from work every day.
“There’s never been a day where I haven’t been able to get to work or I haven’t been able to get to where I need to go. I am so grateful that I have a friend like Lisa to take care of me, and that I have my family and all my friends at Hyatt with me. Work is now my therapy.”
>> Watch the video of Patty’s remarkable story.
>> Read Patty’s story in Forbes Magazine.