Southport resident Rosemary Lambert is recovering from a stroke with help from the Westport Weston Family Y's aqua therapy program. Membership Coordinator Midge Deverin captured Lambert's story for the Y's Profile in Courage website feature. The tale offers inspiration and hope for others in a similar situation.
Midge met Rosemary when she came to the Family Y with her dear friend Betsy Rowley. Betsy had spoken to her briefly on the phone about the Y's warm (90 degree) Brophy Pool. She explained that her friend of more than 30 years had suffered a massive stroke and was told that the pool might be excellent therapy for her.
On the day that Rosemary came for her first swim, one could sense the anxiety in her beautiful blue eyes. Betsy had to practically hold her up and help her walk. At that point in her recovery process, everything for Rosemary was such an effort ... maneuvering down the hallway to the Girl's Locker Room (Rosemary couldn't walk upstairs to the Woman's Locker Room), getting undressed, putting on a bathing suit, all were hard tasks for someone who was dealing with such a traumatic injury.
The old Y was built before accessibility standards were put in place for people like Rosemary, so walking down the pool corridor to the Brophy Pool and lowering herself into the pool so she would be able to move her limbs in the water, and then reversing the entire procedure – all proved to be an arduous and challenging experience. "It was just so overwhelming for me at the time," Rosemary told me of those early days in her recovery.
As coordinator of national and international maritime events for Morgan Marketing & Communications, Rosemary had long traveled the world. She was a super-active executive in a high-power job.
She was also an avid fisherman, competing for over 15 years at the Martha's Vineyard Fishing Derby and salmon fishing in Alaska several summers. In her spare time, she and Betsy would put together 2,000 plus puzzle pieces as a hobby.
It all changed one morning – January 17, 2012 -- when Rosemary started her day like any other day, taking a shower. When Rosemary failed to come to work that morning, it was discovered that she had had a massive stroke in the bathroom. She was just 58 years old. Her entire right side was affected. She couldn't swallow, talk or walk. She required a feeding tube for 10 weeks and was in Gaylord Acute Rehab in Wallingford for five weeks before she was transferred to the Carlton Nursing Home in Southport.
Rosemary then returned to Gaylord to live at the Traurig House, a transitional living center, for five weeks. It was here where Rosemary started exercising in the pool for rehabilitation. "Freedom from my stroke" is how she fondly describes her first experience in the water.
Doctors do not know why Rosemary suffered such an acute stroke or what the prognosis is. But as devastating as this condition is, Rosemary Lambert is a fighter, and from the beginning was determined to talk and walk and resume living her life.
A turning point came when she finally returning home and began swimming in a friend's backyard pool over the summer. Her friend's 12-year-old son and some neighborhood children started playing Marco Polo in the pool and included Rosemary. This became such an enjoyable and fun activity that she looked forward to with every visit.
On her 60th birthday, the kids surprised her with an aqua t-shirt stating MARCO on the front and POLO on the back. Rosemary was delighted ... but now, with summer ending, she was faced with the unfortunate reality that there would be no more swimming outdoors and no pool games of Marco Polo. On top of this, the insurance money used for rehabilitation therapy had also come to an end. Someone suggested the Westport Weston Family Y's 90-degree therapeutic Brophy pool – and a new chapter in Rosemary's recovery began.
What has evolved from that fateful day when Midge first met Rosemary to the woman she sees today is nothing short of remarkable. With the help of Cindy Freedman, the Y's special needs "Angel Fish" water therapist, Rosemary has gained a lot of the strength and flexibility back.
Cindy taught her how to elongate her body in the water with the use of foam noodles, which helped greatly in alleviating her spasms. She was also taught adapted swimming strokes, enabling her to swim laps on her own, often using flippers to help propel her along.
But nothing can compare to the feeling of independence and 'self' that Rosemary has gotten back.
"My experience here in the water has changed everything," Rosemary says. "All of a sudden – BOOM! I feel like a rubber duck! I go in and out of the water, I feel so comfortable and I am walking, talking ... I can do anything."
"The woman I met last summer who needed help in getting here and assistance in and out of the water is not the woman I see in front of me today," says Midge. "She no longer needs any help and arrives at the Y on her own."
Rosemary walks assuredly down the hall, coming to the Y via a car service from her Southport home. She smiles at everyone at the front desk and knows exactly where she's going — able to dress herself, go independently into the water and do her routine alone, shower and change and wave goodbye to all of us as she walks down the hall to meet her car.
Midge asked Rosemary what encouragement or advice she would give to anyone else who has had a stroke or going through a challenging period in their lives.
Says Rosemary, "I would say 'people, just wait a minute and say to yourselves 'I can do it'...because you can!"
If you know anyone who would benefit from the Family Y's Aqua exercise or therapeutic programs, contact Nicole Turechek, Aquatic Director, at 203-226-8981.
PHOTO: Rosemary, at right, with Betsy at a Yankees game just after 9/11.