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Celebrating the Spirit of Life and of Victory

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Celebrating the Spirit of Life and of Victory

Last April, at age 57, David Forrester was hit with a stroke that left him with limited function on his right side and decreased cognitive ability, as well as speech and swallowing impairment. But with the help of his wife, Barbara, and a team of therapists at Chapel Hill’s Fast Track Rehab program, Forrester has fought back.

“He has always had such a positive spirit,” says Barbara. “He’s kind and funny and just the nicest guy you’ll ever want to meet. And he’s strong.”

David, an engineer, runner and bicyclist, was scheduled for a job-promotion interview when he had the stroke. It temporarily derailed the job opportunity and his active lifestyle, but it didn’t take his spirit.

“To say that we weren’t upset would not be true, but we knew he had to work to overcome his disabilities brought on by the stroke,” says Barbara. “You have to take one day at a time and try to think positively.”

After spending a month in a hospital, David was transferred to Fast Track Rehab. There, the real work began, and David made strides at a rate that amazed his doctors.

“It was so important to David to prove that he could do it; he just threw everything he had into getting better,” says Barbara. “Sometimes during physical therapy, the therapists would say, ‘Dave, wake up,’ because he was lying there with his eyes closed. It turns out what he was doing was visualizing — visualizing how the arm is supposed to move, how the leg is supposed to move, and it worked. “The therapists at Fast Track Rehab never gave up on David,” she adds. “There was one in particular, Kathryn Willaman, his speech therapist, who I swear is an angel on earth. She would come in and keep his intellect stimulated by talking to him about the NASA program or Scientific American magazine. David was still the same person inside, and he loved hearing about these things. But really, all of them were wonderful.”

And the Forresters also had a secret weapon: ice cream.

“Whenever he reached a personal milestone, we’d get ice cream! It sounds silly, but it worked. You absolutely have to have something to work for,” Barbara says.

Although David still faces challenges, he left Fast Track in July and continues a rigorous regimen of therapy that was created by his team at Chapel Hill. And David has big plans for the future.

“He wants to publish a book he started before his stroke,” says Barbara, “and maybe write a sequel. He’s got a goal. He’s got dreams. One way or another we’re going to find a way to make those dreams come true.”