The red square lights up on the wall, and Hannah Bonham mashes it with her left hand. Then another, and another, for four minutes, hunting around among dozens of lights, trying to hit the one lit up at random before moving on to the next on the DynaVision 2000 at Walton Rehabilitation Health System.
“Faster,” said occupational therapy assistant Victoria Brinson.
“I am,” protested Hannah.
“There you go,” Brinson said.
Although she is only 14 years old, Hannah is recovering from her second stroke. This one is from a tangle of blood vessels in the brain that can bleed or rupture called arteriovenous malformation, a condition that afflicted Richmond County schools superintendent Frank Roberson last year. He is still recovering.
On Sept. 9 at a hospital in Nashville, Tenn., where Hannah was being evaluated for surgery, a cerebral angiogram triggered a stroke that left her paralyzed on her left side.
Hannah remembers feeling “sliced in half,” she said. But not scared, even when the doctor told her she would never fully regain the use of her left hand.
“I think I’ve proven him wrong,” Hannah said. “I may not have it fully, but I’m pretty determined.”
Something like the DynaVision not only helps her in stretching out the left arm and improving range of motion and reaction time but also can tell the therapist if there is a deficit in vision. A stroke might cause patients to see poorly on one side, Brinson said. Hannah had to be told when the lights lit up on the very bottom left of the machine, where she might still have a small deficit.
Then there is the arm bike in another part of the rehab center at Walton.
“I call it the torture chamber,” Hannah said with a laugh. When she first came to Walton, she couldn’t grasp the handle with her left hand, which had to be strapped to the lever, Brinson said.
“She’s come a long way,” Brinson said.
After what seemed like a long 15 minutes of turning the crank, she had gone the equivalent of 1.8 miles, a personal best. For all that she has been through medically, which began with seizures when she was a year old, Hannah is doing well.
“She’s learned how to be strong and tough,” said her mother, Cathy. “She’s pretty amazing.’
Despite her constant therapy, Hannah is earning straight A’s at North Augusta Middle School while taking some courses that count for high school credit.
“She’s very driven,” her mother said. She has some small goals – being able to tie a ponytail, to swim with her friends this summer. But she has a bigger ambition – to become an occupational therapist and work with autistic children.
“I always wanted to go into the medical field and work with kids,” she said.
She can see something in the rehab gym where the other patients are much older and almost no other patient is smiling.
“It’s kind of fun,” she said. “It’s kind of like a big kids’ playground.”
And someday it might be her turn to encourage others there.