One morning in 2009, USC physical therapy volunteer David Karchem was driving through an intersection near California State University, Northridge.
While making a left turn at a light, he was suddenly struck by an intense headache. He couldn’t manage to press the clutch of his manual transmission car, so he coasted through the intersection the best he could while the other cars honked and swerved around him.
“I wrote a note that said, ‘CALL 911’ and then I just passed out,” Karchem recalled.
When he awoke in the hospital, Karchem learned his world had been forever changed.
In an instant, he had joined the nearly 6.5 million stroke survivors in the United States.
Karchem had experienced a right-brain ischemic stroke. Two blood clots over the right side of his brain had left him paralyzed on his left side. A third clot near the back of his brain, where the visual cortex is located, left him struggling to see and unable to taste or smell anything.
It took him weeks after surgery to learn to walk again. After six months of traditional inpatient and outpatient rehabilitation and intensive work with computer-assisted brain function and vision processing computer programs, Karchem recovered his driving privileges. He also participated in six weeks of occupational robotic training and soon began to mentor other patients.