COON RAPIDS, Minn. -- A Coon Rapids firefighter continues to fight one of the toughest battles of his life.
A stroke last October paralyzed the left side of Ken Boelter's body. But his doctors say he's making great strides thanks to a lot of hard work, and an interesting phenomenon in the brain called neuroplasticity.
"You're making progress, the numbers show it."
For Ken Boelter, it's like being back in elementary school.
He's re-training his brain and trying to re-gain the strength he once had...in the left side of his body.
"They just don't know what caused it."
Boelter was battling a blaze last October when his left leg became limp and heavy. It was the first sign that something was wrong.
Doctor Adam Gunder of Mercy Hospital says, "It appears to us he had symptoms consistent with a stroke."
But doctors never found a blood clot or bleeding in the brain most common in stroke. Instead...
"We surmised that this is more of a spasm of an artery that caused his symptoms."
That spasm in the brain left long term damage and this 44-year-old is doing all he can to fight back.
Boelter says, "Yeah, it was tough on everybody, I mean, tough on the family too, especially the kids."
But through it all, Boelter has focused on the future.
"My main goal is to get 110% back to where I was."
Boelter's doctors and therapists say he's making great progress thanks to a lot of hard work to re-train his brain.
Occupational Therapist Anna Hansmann says "Overall, you're doing great, you're doing your homework, I can tell because you're showing improvement."
Here at the Sister Kenny Outpatient program at Mercy Hospital, Boelter works on eye-hand coordination and physical strength.
Physical Therapist Erin Vesey says, "We're targeting strength and balance as our biggest things but also his endurance."
While part of Boelter's brain was damaged from the stroke, other parts of the brain are taking over. In medical terms, it's neuroplasticity at work. New connections in the brain, forming every day.
"It's all about repetition."
And with more hard work and focus, this firefighter hopes for a full recovery with a goal of being back on the force later this year.
Boelter says, "I'm fortunate, very fortunate."
Boelter attends therapy twice a week at Sister Kenny and he's going to be featured in an upcoming edition of the Sister Kenny Foundation newsletter.
Neuroplasticity, or different connections taking over in the brain, can have different outcomes for different patients all based on the type of injury sustained.
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