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Never Giving Up: Ricky’s Success Story

By, Allison R. Weder

Ricky Joiner, or Mr. Ricky as he is lovingly known around the town of Prattville, Alabama, manicures the tee boxes at his local golf club every morning. He plays golf three days a week and has four busy grandsons with a packed schedule. At 62 years old, Ricky is living life to the fullest. But a stroke nearly took that all away. Ricky looks back on that day. “I was at work as a water treatment operator. I had just gotten back from the river. I’m lucky I did because there was nobody with me at the river. I reached for the refrigerator, and I fell flat on my back.” At the hospital, it was determined Ricky had a major blood clot in the back of his neck. He required surgery and a stint. “I don’t remember anything from the first ten days. They had to roll me over in the bed. I couldn’t see; they had to feed me with a feeding tube. They had called the family in. They expected me to die.” But Ricky is not one to give up. He survived the stroke, but would need extensive rehabilitation.

Ricky spent nearly a month in the hospital. He remembers coming home. “I was in a diaper. I wasn’t able to bathe myself. I wasn’t able to walk; I was in a wheelchair, and I had a feeding tube. They set up an office in the house for my wife. She could work at home and take care of me. I’ve been married to her for 39 years. It’s been the best 39 years.” Ricky has a wonderful support system with his wife and children. He did physical therapy at home and slowly regained some of the things he had lost. He started speaking again and using a walker after gaining some strength in his legs.

After about six months at home, it was time for Ricky to find an outpatient physical therapy clinic. Ricky chose Phoenix Physical Therapy in Prattville. “I knew Corey. He coaches my oldest grandson in baseball, and I coached his wife in softball. They were very nice to me. I felt very comfortable going there.” Clinic Director, Corey Walker, PT, DPT welcomed Ricky to the clinic. The first appointment was spent evaluating Ricky’s condition. The stroke affected his whole body, but much of the weakness was on his right side. Corey also asked about Ricky’s long-term goals. “I’m a big golfer and Corey said he was going to get me back to where I wanted to be. He knew what to do. From there, they just went with it.”

The hard work began right away. Ricky recalls an exercise he refers to as the bird dog, where you begin on your hands and knees. “You lift your left arm and right leg at the same time. Then you switch to your right arm and left leg. It’s a very hard position to get into and when I left I could do it pretty good.” Ricky also practiced going up and down steps. He used resistance bands and the leg press. Ricky looked forward to the beginning of his sessions. “The first thing you do is check in and then you go onto the bicycle. I could turn up the bicycle little by little each time. The bicycle helped a lot, and the leg press helped a lot. I was really weak in my legs. You don’t walk for nine months you get weak.”

Ricky made progress each week, but he was particularly excited to reach several walking milestones. “One day, Corey said, ‘let’s try walking with the rollator.’ He had me walking with the rollator for a little while with help. Then he said, ‘let’s try it by yourself’. And I did it. He pushed me.” Ricky graduated from the walker to the rollator. The next step was trying a cane. “Once I could walk 100 yards there and 100 yards back (with the rollator) I built enough strength to walk with the cane. Then I worked up to walking by myself. It took about a year.”

Courtney VanDeventer, PTA was also part of Ricky’s therapy team. One of her specialties was particularly helpful as Ricky looked to the future. “Courtney knew some golf exercises. That was such good stuff and really good exercises. I get emotional about it. I didn’t think I’d ever walk without a walker again and now I’m playing golf.”

Ricky spent five months with the Prattville team. He attended sessions three days a week, an hour each day. “They keep me doing exercises all the time. They don’t let you sit still. By the time I left I was sweating. And everyone pitches in. When something got hard they would say, ‘work the best you can. If you can’t do it that’s fine. Do as many as you can.’ I would push myself to do those exercises. When I got (done), I knew everybody’s name, and everyone knew Mr. Ricky. It’s a family. It was so good just to walk in and see the smiling faces. It made you work so much harder.” And Corey found the time he spent with Ricky was rewarding as well. “Mr. Ricky is one of those people you see out in the community that always has a smile on his face and brings joy to every room he walks into. He is someone I look up too not only for his character, but his drive to be the best man he can be no matter what the world throws at him. He is truly an inspiration.”

Ricky is grateful he found experts he can trust at Phoenix PT-Prattville. “They know what to show you to strengthen your muscles. You may think you know what to do but you might not do the right thing. They’re trained to teach you what to do. They know what muscles to target. Everything has been straight uphill. I wasn’t going to quit. That’s the biggest thing. Corey and them, they’re not going to let you quit. With 4 grandboys, I’m not giving up.”