Conversations with StrokeLine (1800 787 653)

Wednesday, January 20 2021, 12:35PM

We’re excited to launch ‘Conversations with StrokeLine’ - A video chat with members of the community.

In today’s chat, StrokeLine’s Physiotherapist, Kath Yong, talks with Robert Vander Kraats - father of two, marathon runner, stroke survivor and Physiotherapist.

They cover topics including: the importance of mindset, completing a Half-Ironman in a wheelchair, Hippotherapy and going back to work.

Robert says, “As a physiotherapist, I recognise that there is currently a large gap in the care of stroke survivors in the community. It seems to me, in the hospital setting, survivors have ample support, however after discharge it’s as if they fall off the conveyor belt.

Because of this, I was motivated to complete a Half-Ironman and raise public awareness for stroke survivors.”

Here is Robert’s story.

Robert has aphasia. If you find Robert difficult to understand, below is the transcript of the chat.

Thank you, Robert, for kicking off Conversations with StrokeLine. (1800 787 653)

Transcript:

Kath:
Okay. Hi, I'm Kath, a physiotherapist from StrokeLine at the Stroke Foundation. Today we have a very special guest, Robert Vander Kraatz. In 2005, as a physiotherapist, father of two, and marathon runner, Robert suffered a stroke. Robert took part in lengthy rehabilitation and recently managed to finish a half Ironman challenge. Our stroke community were keen to find out more about Robert and his mindset since the stroke. We are privileged to have Robert here today to talk more about this. Welcome to you, Robert.

Robert:
Thank you.

Kath:
Hey, how are you today, Robert?

Robert:
Good. Going well. Good to be here.

Kath:
It's so good to have you here, Robert. It's really great. Robert, do you think you could start by telling us a little bit about your stroke?

Robert:
Now my stroke was in mid of 2015.

Robert:
I had a bleed in my cerebellum, in my left side, so the balance, and coordination, and walking is affected.

Kath:
Oh, wow. Yes, that must be hard. Yes.

Robert:
A big adjustment, but a new normal now. A new normal, something's different.

Kath:
Yep. Yep. I heard down here that you had been in a coma for two weeks, is that correct, Robert?

Robert:
That's right, and I was in hospital for six months.

Kath:
6 months? Wow.

Robert:
I can tell you the hospital food is terrible. What they say is very true.

Kath:
Yes. That's not the first time I've heard that, Robert.

Robert:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Kath:
Yeah, sure.

Robert:
Within the six months, I was visited daily with OT and physio of speeches.

Kath:
Yes.

Robert:
So that was six months, and then after discharge, the speech was even now for two weeks, and physio twice a week.

Robert:
And the personal training three times a week.

Kath:
Wow.

Robert:
So it's all about maintenance, I feel, so I don't regress.

Kath:
Yes. So currently there's still quite a program that you're doing, Robert, even now?

Robert:
Because I find that if I don't do anything, I regress significantly, so it's important to do something physical.

Kath:
Wow. Okay. You said it was in 2015? I think I had down 2005, but it's 2015 that you had the stroke?

Robert:
2015.

Kath:
Yeah.

Robert:
July of 2015.

Kath:
Yes, 2015. Okay. How do you find that therapy that you're doing, Robert?

Robert:
I think it's good and it's important to be involved in it, otherwise if I'm not involved in it, I notice I go backwards.

Kath:
Yes. Yeah.

Robert:
And physical reasons, so it's important to be involved in something.

Kath:
Mm-hmm (affirmative). I know that you, yourself, you were practicing as a physiotherapist prior to the stroke, is that correct, Robert?

Robert:
Yeah, that is right. When I had the stroke, I was halfway through a patient.

Kath:
Oh, wow.

Robert:
Then, I had a severe headache and then I was unconscious three minutes after.

Kath:
Oh, my gosh.

Robert:
So I had to excuse myself when I had the sever headache.

Kath:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Robert:
Then within the hour, I was operated on.

Kath:
Yeah.

Robert:
The interesting thing was about two weeks before, I went to the GP for complete bloods and everything was normal.

Kath:
Okay, so everything was normal before, and then this happened whilst you were in a physiotherapy consult? You were consulting a patient?

Robert:
And young and fit too, and it happened, so it can happen to any demographic.

Kath:
Any demographic.

Robert:
I had no risk factors either.

Kath:
Oh, wow. Yeah, and so you had no risk factors?

Robert:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Kath:
Yes. Okay. After that period of time, you had the therapies that you had spoken about already. Yes. As a physio, how did that impact you? You were working in a private clinic then with the patients? Yeah, so you would know a lot about the 1000 reps that need to happen after a stroke and all of the research that's behind it as well, is that right?

Robert:
Yes. Sometimes that's good and sometimes that's bad. Sometimes knowing what other people do is not really a good thing necessarily.

Kath:
Yes.

Robert:
For example, the hospital physio sometimes it was good, sometimes not good.

Kath:
Okay. Can you expand a little bit on that, Robert? Was there sometimes that it was good, can you describe why it was good?

Robert:
For example, sitting balance. She worked on sitting balance, that was good.

Kath:
Okay.

Robert:
What I meant is other things that weren't supportive the evidence.

Kath:
Yes.

Robert:
Of course, it wasn't my place to say anything. I just went along with it.

Kath:
Yes. Okay. Okay. Yes, because as a patient, it's difficult to then say that you know a little bit as well. Okay. You mentioned that there were some challenges with the walking and the speech, can you describe that a bit further? What did you try in that space with therapies? I think there was something called hippotherapy?

Robert:
Yeah, hippotherapy.

Kath:
Yeah.

Robert:
Yes, so riding a horse for therapeutic reasons. The first time they got me on a horse, they asked me to turn backwards, can you believe?

Kath:
Wow.

Robert:
So when they got me turning backwards, it helps with my posture and core strength.

Kath:
Wow.

Robert:
Surprisingly, it helps with my breathing and speech too.

Kath:
Wow, and so that was quite useful for you, Robert?

Robert:
Yeah. I didn't realize how much research there was about it, but there's lots of research.

Kath:
Yeah. It's something that I don't know a lot about actually. It's really good that you found that and it was helpful for you, Robert. Yeah.

Robert:
I wanted it to be really objective, so I asked the speech therapist if they noticed if she noticed any change.

Kath:
Yes.

Robert:
She did say there was definitely change.

Kath:
Wow.

Robert:
The only variable to change was the horse riding.

Kath:
Yeah.

Robert:
It's very interesting.

Kath:
It's so interesting. So change your posture, your breathing as well?

Robert:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Kath:
Yeah, that's great. That's really good. That's really good. I think we've spoken a lot about mindset. I do want to really delve into that, Robert.

Robert:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Kath:
You mentioned how it is quite important to have a good mindset. Can you tell me a little bit more about how you felt at the start and how you got to where you are today, Robert?

Robert:
Well, I think it's very important having a positive mindset.

Kath:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Robert:
When someone has a stroke, they could easily just give up and watch TV. For example, I had three private practices before and I was pretty busy. You would think a normal person would just say, "It's all too hard now," but the point is I've got another physio, he's my hands. So I can still operate, but another physio is my hands.

Kath:
Wow.

Robert:
So, that's what I mean all about positive attitude, the way you approach every situation. Likewise, I just completed the Ironman.

Kath:
Yes.

Robert:
It's all got to do with the positive attitude.

Kath:
Yeah.

Robert:
With the Ironman, there's a swim, there's run, and there's a ride. For the swim, I somewhat swam and pulled many behind in an inflatable boat. For the ride, I was in a little carriage behind a bike. For the run, someone pushed me for the run. So it's all about mindset.

Kath:
That's great.

Robert:
If it's a positive mindset, then physio is a good thing to do and so is the Ironman. It's really about having a positive attitude.

Kath:
Yeah. Do you think that that comes from within? Or is it something that you've learned from somewhere? How did you develop this positive mindset, positive attitude?

Robert:
I think it's a little bit about how you are as a person, and what you want to with it.

Kath:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Robert:
It's also external influences, I gather, so I think it's a bit of both.

Kath:
Yes. Yes. Those external influences, would that be some supportive people around you and therapists as well?

Robert:
Yeah, family, and therapists, and friends.

Kath:
Yes.

Robert:
I would put all three of them.

Kath:
So all three of them?

Robert:
All three of them.

Kath:
Yeah. Yes. Yep.

Robert:
What I go to is a stroke peer support group.

Kath:
Excellent.

Robert:
That support group is also worthwhile for people to encourage you. The reason why I like that is everyone has been through something similar, which is very useful.

Kath:
Yeah.

Robert:
It's easier to bring light to people.

Kath:
Yeah, definitely. Yeah. Having other people who have been through similar situations as yourself, you can relate to them.

Robert:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Kath:
Yeah. Definitely, that's really good, I think, to have that support around you. Yeah. That sounds good. Do you find that when you were talking to other people or other stroke survivors, do you have advice that you would give to someone else or even to yourself earlier on?

Robert:
What I've often said to people, is to never give up and think outside the box. Those are the important ones. Experts have set a 12 month rule. So in other words, after 12 months there will be no improvement. For example, with myself, I've noticed a considerable amount of improvement after 12 months.

Kath:
Yes.

Robert:
There are-

Kath:
Yeah, sorry. So you're saying that there is still improvement after 12 months, but people often say that at 12 months there won't be much more improvement? I think that-

Robert:
So many people say that 12 months just write off anything out.

Kath:
Yes. I think that's something that, as a physio myself, I often hear that as well, but it's not necessarily helpful for a stroke survivor to hear that, and then not true anyway, because you can actually get some recovery definitely after the 12 months.

Robert:
Yes, that goes against having the positive attitude.

Kath:
Yeah.

Robert:
For example, what happens if you're 13 months and someone says that to you.

Kath:
Yes. Yes, definitely. Then you might feel bad that you're already past 12 months.

Robert:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Kath:
Yeah, sure. Do you have down days, Robert? How do you get through those down days if you do?

Robert:
Well, I try not to let myself do that.

Kath:
Yeah. Yeah.

Robert:
I think it supports, again, this positive attitude to try and fill the gap with something that possibly makes you go down. Again, I think having a supportive network around you is important for that, so they can recognize before you even say something. I think it's important.

Kath:
Yes, that's a really good point. A Supportive network, yeah.

Robert:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Kath:
That's really good, Robert. I do know that you have a book as well. Is that, My Journey Since a Brain Bleed?

Robert:
Yeah, that is this. I put out a cheaper intervention, so I tried doing that.

Kath:
Okay.

Robert:
Why I did that? I had to reset all the interventions. The timeframe, we took a long time to do that.

Kath:
Yes.

Robert:
What I thought, I would make it easier for people, just put it all in one spot for people.

Kath:
Wow.

Robert:
So rather than taking an extensive time, they can get the whole pitch in under a minute.

Kath:
That's great.

Robert:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Kath:
That's really good. That sounds great, Robert. You shared with us some really great pillars of wisdom. Was there anything that you wanted to say to finish off now, Robert?

Robert:
Not really. Just my main message really, is about them keeping positive and never giving up to people.

Kath:
That sounds great.

Robert:
And despite if people say that something is not possible, that's when you have to think outside the box and make it possible. I never accepted, no, for an answer. There's always a possibility often.

Kath:
That sounds great, Robert. What's next for you?

Robert:
Well, what's next? I'm currently doing a postgraduate, like a after master's, a post education.

Kath:
Oh, wow. Yes.

Robert:
My thesis is on the topic of stroke.

Kath:
Wow.

Robert:
What I found is within the hospitals setting, people are safe and they have a good network of staff, but as soon as a person is discharged, it's as if they fall off a conveyor belt.

Kath:
Yes.

Robert:
So there's absolutely very little services, I've found, at least for the long-term. That's what my thesis is looking at, what is available within the community for stroke survivors.

Kath:
That is amazing, Robert. That's definitely an interest of myself and, I'm sure, a lot of people as well, in that thesis. So keep us posted as well about that. I think it sounds like a great thesis to have. Yeah.

Robert:
Because there's so many people that have been affected by this too.

Kath:
Yes.

Robert:
It's not just a handful, it's lots and lots that just don't have the services in the community.


Kath:
Yes, for sure. A lot. A lot. I think that that's really great work that what you're doing there, Robert.

Robert:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Kath:
Really great work. You have to tell us more about that. They'd wish to have you on again, Robert.

Robert:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Kath:
Oh, yeah. Shall we finish up there for today? Thank you so much for coming and sharing with us.

Robert:
Thanks for having me.

Kath:
Yeah, it's been great. Okay.