I am thankful for the more than 300,000 physical and occupational therapists in the U.S. If it weren’t for my own “PTs and OTs,” there is no way I could have returned to the U.S. Senate to represent the people of Illinois after I suffered a massive stroke in January 2012.
About 800,000 Americans have a stroke each year, and only about one-third of those individuals return to work. For many people with serious medical issues, access to rehabilitation provided by PTs and OTs can make a life-changing difference.
My ischemic stroke left me nearly paralyzed on the left side of my body. Even sitting upright was almost impossible. Despite my own lack of faith in what my body could do, my team at the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago never once let me quit. I spent hours in a harness and on a treadmill (which I called my “dreadmill”), slowly exercising my left leg to the point it could bear weight. Learning to walk again was a grueling process. But less than a year after my stroke, I walked up the 45 steps of the U.S. Capitol and returned to the Senate.
I owe my life to medical professionals: the doctors who kept me alive immediately following my stroke and the rehabilitation specialists who helped put me back together. Their work inspired me to introduce my “Stroke Agenda,” a series of legislative efforts to improve stroke research and enhance access to rehabilitation for all Americans. Every American deserves a chance to regain independent-living skills or return to work following a major health issue.
Having a stroke shouldn’t mean the end of a productive life. Physical and occupational therapists make a major difference in countless American’s lives, including the life of this U.S. Senator.
Mark Kirk is the junior Senator from Illinois.
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