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Sailing from Stroke to Newfound Strength
HOUSTON (May 16, 2019) - Gregg Plunkett grew up with a love of sailing. He began participating in sailing activities with the Houston Yacht Club when he was 10. “I’ve always felt a sense of freedom on the water,” Plunkett said.
Many of Plunkett’s hobbies involved water, including kitesurfing, freshwater and saltwater fishing, sailing, surfing and boating with his family.
In the fall of 2017, Plunkett’s freedom and passion was nearly taken from him when he suffered a stroke while working on his 26-foot WorldCat boat in the backyard of his Kemah home. Neighbors found Plunkett and called the emergency medical services that took him to an area hospital. The following day, Plunkett was transferred to a Houston hospital where doctors performed an emergency hemicraniectomy to relieve brain swelling.
Plunkett spent two months in the hospital before he was admitted to TIRR Memorial Hermann Hospital. At the time, he was unable to move much on his own and required assistance.
“It was a challenging time. He was diagnosed with right side paralysis, as well as severe aphasia and apraxia,” said Dawn Plunkett, Gregg’s wife of 18 years. “We knew we would have some hurdles to overcome but as a family we were prepared to face them.”
Plunkett was under the care of Dr. Christopher Falco, an attending physician in the brain injury rehabilitation program at TIRR Memorial Hermann.
” When Gregg first arrived at TIRR, his neurologic deficits were pretty severe, and it was obvious that his road to recovery would be a challenge. But it was clear that both Gregg and Dawn were determined to overcome any adversity that came their way. They gave off this positive energy that I think the whole therapy team could feel, and it definitely carried over into his therapies. It was really cool to see."
While at TIRR Memorial Hermann, Plunkett’s therapy team worked diligently to improve movement and regain strength in his hip flexors.
“His physical therapist, Libby, never gave up on him and really pushed Gregg during this time,” Dawn said. “His entire therapy team was outstanding and amazingly supportive of our family.”
Plunkett’s daily care consisted of occupational and speech therapy and his personal favorite, music therapy.
“Music therapy was when Gregg was able to sing one of his favorite songs by the band Sublime,” said Dawn, “However, it didn’t feel like speech therapy or hard work because based on his reaction to the song and music therapy, I just knew he enjoyed it.”
During his stay, Plunkett met Peggy Turner, coordinator of TIRR Memorial Hermann’s Adapted Sports Program . After learning of Plunkett’s passion and background in sailing, Turner let his family know about Sea Star Base, an adaptive sailing program in Galveston. The following spring, one of Gregg’s friends gave him a membership to the program.
After eight weeks at TIRR, Plunkett had made significant overall improvements. He was beginning to walk with assistance, could transfer to his wheelchair on his own and was able to use more words. Plunkett was discharged from TIRR and continued additional rehabilitation at a facility near his home.
Back on the water
Less than nine months after his stroke, Plunkett set sail for the first time.
“Gregg refused to use the handicap lift once on the boat. He sailed the sonar boar as if he never had a stroke,” Dawn said. “He docked it under wind, inches from the dock. I was jumping out of my skin from excitement because he was back on the water.”
Plunkett quickly became reacquainted with the sailboats and gear.
“Everyone was so excited and I remember Greg looking at everyone smiling, like, ‘Yeah, I still have it,’” Dawn said.
Plunkett was back at home on the waters. He quickly excelled and in the summer of 2018 placed first in the Judd Goldman Independence Cup in Chicago.
Though Plunkett was walking more on his own, he still needed his wheelchair. Leaving the wheelchair at the dock and competing on the water gave him a sense of normalcy.
“Gregg is really proud of his accomplishment of becoming a nationally ranked sailor and he is always ready to be on the water,” Dawn said. “To Gregg, it is just another race won and to say he is competitive is an understatement.”
Dawn’s advice for any family in a similar situation is to keep pushing forward.
“This has been a hard journey, there is no way around that. Acceptance and adaption is always at the front of our lives. What we have learned and would stand by is that neuro recovery does not plateau, the patient does. Neuro recovery continues and it is up to the advocates, survivors, therapists and everyone involved to find new ways to move forward.”