“What do I need to do to get better?” was the recurring question Mary Gilder asked her doctors and therapists after a stroke in the summer of 2017 left her unable to walk or remember her name. Gilder’s determination, faith and courage propelled her through her journey toward healing.
The Day of Her Stroke
In July 2017, Mary had just had a great day at work and was driving home from her job as a therapist at a Houston-area hospital. The author, former commissioner and youth advocate arrived home and felt an exhaustion she had never felt before. “I went about my day but the next morning when I was showering, I couldn’t lift my leg to exit the shower,” said Gilder. Her family took her to an outpatient emergency center where they assessed her and determined she was experiencing a stroke. An ambulance transported her to a local hospital where she would spend the next week and a half.
“While I was in the hospital, I lost feeling on the entire left side of my body, I couldn’t walk and I just became numb to most of what was taking place around me,” said Gilder. “My mind never once went to defeat but I just wanted to know, what did I need to do to get better?” After her discharge, Gilder transferred to TIRR Memorial Hermann in late July.
Stroke Recovery Requires Early & Aggressive Rehabilitation
“I understood the significance of being able to get into TIRR Memorial Hermann; I had always heard great things, so I knew that was where I needed to be,” added Gilder. She describes her first day as being welcomed with open arms and a plan. “It was football season when I first arrived and I had already wrapped in my mind I would enjoy my team’s game on the next day, however when my nurse arrived she presented me with my schedule and I realized I wouldn’t be in my room watching my team. Looking back, I realize that immediate action to get me started was a recipe for my healing.”
“Early, aggressive rehabilitation is paramount for a prompt recovery following a stroke as evidenced by multiple research studies,” said Dr. Manuel Mas, an attending physician at TIRR Memorial Hermann. “For this reason, our efforts are focused on a quick transition to inpatient rehabilitation following acute hospitalization and starting intensive therapy within 24 hours of admission.” Dr. Mas is also an assistant professor of physical medicine and rehabilitation at McGovern Medical School at UTHealth.
One of Gilder’s early memories with Dr. Mas was when she was unable to spell her name or count backwards from 100, which caused her to cry out of frustration. Dr. Mas assured Gilder they would work towards being able to accomplish spelling her name.
During her therapy sessions, Gilder’s therapists motivated her through physical and functional activities that required her to establish a routine. “We would work on cognition in occupational therapy and this really challenged Mary to think of the steps she needed to do before she would leave her room,” said Yaronda Broussard, Occupational Therapist at TIRR Memorial Hermann. “We would repeat these activities every day.” Some of her functional activities included, writing her daily notes to re-read in the evening, cooking and folding clothes. Gilder was challenged with cooking a homemade peach cobbler, which over the course of three days, she and Broussard would go over the items and steps needed to make the cobbler. “This repetition of information and routine helped improve her memory,” added Broussard.
Unable to walk when she entered, Gilder left TIRR Memorial Hermann walking on her own. She describes her five weeks of inpatient therapy as dynamic. “I surrendered to the process. At TIRR Memorial Hermann, I was not just taken care of, I was loved and they might not know, but they also took care of my entire family,” said Gilder.
Graduating to Outpatient Therapy in the Challenge Program
Immediately following her discharge from TIRR Memorial Hermann, Mary began the next step in her journey in the Challenge Program at TIRR Memorial Hermann Outpatient Rehabilitation-Kirby Glen. The Challenge Program, is an outpatient, evidence-based program that provides a comprehensive range of services to help brain injury survivors regain mobility skills such as walking independently; assists with communication and problem-solving skills needed for long-term success; and provides specialized services focused on community reintegration skills critical for the transition to independent living, school, work or volunteer activities following brain injury.
When she entered the doors at Kirby Glen, she had only been walking a week, and couldn’t remember more than 10 words and five numbers. “I remember realizing there was a plan in place for me, so I knew I had to give this program 100 percent and beyond,” added Gilder.
In order to enhance recovery through repeated practice, the Challenge Team relies on patients and caregivers to follow through with home exercise programs and other recommended activities. “Mary understood this concept very well and her energy and passion undoubtedly served as her motivation during the Challenge Program,” said Zahra Kadivar, PT, and Challenge Program Manager. “Mary is one of the hardest working individuals we have had in the Challenge Program. She followed through with every single exercise and recommendation given to her and served as a source of motivation to other Challenge clients. It has been a pleasure to be a part of her recovery and we are excited that she gets to share her incredible story.”
Gilder admits there were days when she felt overwhelmed but she never surrendered to the thoughts and fears associated. Gilder appreciates the relentless motivation and support of the Challenge Program team for believing in her ability to be an overcomer. “They knew having a strong will would allow me to meet and overcome the challenges I faced and I did,” said Gilder.
Living Life with a New Focus on Fitness
As she continues to push forth, she knows she’s a conqueror, courageous and determined to do what it takes to get better. “I don’t want this to happen again so I’ve found a new focus of taking care of myself; and I don’t want it to happen to anyone I love, so I’m encouraging all of my friends and family to take better care of themselves,” she said. “My Challenge friends and I all made a pact to never again ignore the signs and I’m sharing that with everyone.”
After graduating from the Challenge Program on June 22, Mary now participates in the TIRR Memorial Hermann Strength Unlimited Program where she and her physical trainer engage in physical activities such as weight lifting, boxing and running. She is currently starting the process of transitioning back to work with her new outlook on life.
To learn more about TIRR Memorial Hermann or to schedule an appointment, visit or call 1-800-44-REHAB.