My gaming allows me to use my left hand for rehab

Zach shares his story about having a stroke when he was 16 years old, challenges with adjustments to his lifestyle and the importance of rehabilitation, especially his awesome gaming set up.

Some of the topics discussed will get you thinking about your own experiences. If you feel any distress, talk with someone you trust—perhaps a family member, friend, or your doctor. If you need support, information or advice StrokeLine’s health professionals are available 9am to 5pm, Monday to Friday, AEST. Call StrokeLine on 1800 787 653 or email strokeline@strokefoundation.org.au. Lifeline is available 24 hours a day on 13 11 44.

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Video transcript

Zach: Hi. I’m Zach. I’m 18 years old. In May of 2020, I suffered a stroke around my parietal frontal brain region and I lost the ability of my left side and some cognitive behaviours such as short-term memory. Before this, I was going to school full time. I was doing some work at my mum’s tennis club. I played a lot of sport, I played soccer, I did athletics. I rode my bike to school every day. To lose all those abilities that I once had before. It’s absolutely devastating. When I had my stroke, it was very out of the blue. I suffered a random event of nausea without any other prior symptoms and I collapsed to the floor.  

Jennifer: That experience was so traumatic. I rode in the ambulance. We all met up at the hospital. They wouldn’t tell us what was going on. And then they finally came and said to us, ‘He’s in ICU, he’s in an induced coma’.

And we’re like, ‘Wow.’ And that was all the information we got. And so as soon as we got some words and we heard the word ‘AVM’, I’m like, ‘What’s an AVM?’ So I googled when we got home- ‘Arteriovenous malformation’, which basically is a stroke where it bursts. We didn’t know if he was going to live or die. And the doctors kept saying to us “It looks bleak”. 

Zach: After waking up out of an 18-day induced coma, you’re sitting there with your arm still attached your body, legs still attached to your body, and it’s just not listening to you. It’s not moving. I was very frightened. I was confused and you’re told that you might not get better. And I didn’t think that I’d have to worry about this to be honest. I mean, I thought I was a pretty healthy guy before this. I ate okay, I did lots of exercise and it’s out of the blue. No warnings whatsoever. It just came at me. 

Jennifer: When we got home from the hospital. This was about six months. We had to bathe Zach. We had to bring him around, organise all his appointments. All the people coming in and out of our house every other day. We had no help at all. So, I wish there was some more information where they could have directed me to a website. A person. An organisation. There was nothing.  

Zach: Honestly, nothing can really compare to actually going home, doing things by yourself, getting all of the things done yourself because when you’re in hospital and you’ve lost mobility, everything’s done for you by all the nurses and everyone else. You aren’t told to do anything and you don’t expect to do anything anymore. When you come home, you automatically do things by yourself. That’s why I think it’s so much more important to get out of hospital and actually come home. You need to go home. You need to actually keep on your rehabilitation programs. And that’s why I also think some great therapists are necessary to the whole process. 

Therapist 1: Zach’s motivation is his biggest key and is what makes working with him so good. And so, we’ve done a really broad range of things through our therapy together. And that’s really very just depending on the stage of Zach’s progress. So doing small passive things like electrical stimulation and mirror box therapy. And then working towards the more targeted skill building and strengthening of particular muscles and movements as they emerged. And then also trying to combine it with some activities that Zach finds enjoyment in as well. Just to I suppose, to keep it a bit more interesting as well. 

Therapist 2: Zach has been number one. He has been very committed to his rehab. I’ve never seen anyone like him. He has been so committed. He does his home exercises, very rare in this field where people do their home exercises. So, Zach has been very committed there. He’s well supported by mum, sister Zoe and father Lewis. They’re very involved in his rehab as well. Zach has got a great team of other providers. Carlo, I would say is number one. He’s put in the hours. 

Zach: I can move my arm like really well. Now, actually, I’ve got to form a full range. I can go all the way up if I want to like that. It’s incredibly insane how much progress I’ve made. I’ve had to sort of adjust my lifestyle very differently from what used to be in my normal life. 

For example, my daily necessities like showering and just getting ready. Not only do I need to do them one handed now which already takes quite a bit of adjustment as you would imagine. But I also need to get help from my family to set up certain things like a shower chair to sit down in the shower because I’m not really trustworthy to stand up in there anymore. 

I also need adjustments for eating such and stuff going on my plate so I can eat properly. I need stuff to make toast, so special equipment for that.  

There’s also a lot of assistive tech that helps me enjoy my life to the fullest. For one, I’ve got my gaming setup. It’s absolutely incredible. Because not only does it allow me to use my left hand for rehab at the same time as gaming, but also lets me to play games to an extent that I almost was able to before. And that’s something really special to me. 

My mum’s basically done everything for me throughout this entire experience. To know what I would have done without her. And while my mum’s been supporting me and my family has been supporting me, it’s been hard because in the early stages they didn’t really have any support to support themselves. I know that they were really struggling behind the scenes and my family has been so great and you really need to look after your family through the whole thing. 

In five years’ time. I want to be playing guitar, I want to be running, I want to be using this left hand as well as I can. Ideally, I want to be back to where I was before this or even better. Of course, not all of that’s realistic, but I’m going to do my best to get there and hopefully we can make it. 

I’m pretty motivated to get there to be honest.