By Kate Vander Wiede

Frank Corrente, center, graduates from physical therapy. From left to right: Richmond Clinic Director and Physical Therapist Dr. Andrew Horton, patient Frank Corrente, and Physical Therapy Assistant Sarah Shoen.

After a stroke, physical therapy and exercise helped Frank Corrente reclaim his life

When Exeter resident Frank Corrente had a stroke last August, everything changed. For years, 63-year-old Corrente had run a thriving small business that depended on him going to antique shows and yard sales several times a week. But after his stroke, Corrente couldn’t walk without a walker, his arm and leg were weak, his balance was non-existent and life as he knew it seemed to be over.

“In the beginning, I was standing up straight and looked normal, but inside I was off balance. I was shaking,” Corrente recalled on a recent phone call. “I felt like I was dead. I thought I would never be able to provide for my family again.” Though he spent time in the hospital, took medications and worked with an occupational therapist, Corrente didn’t feel like he was improving after his stroke. When he arrived at Performance Physical Therapy’s Richmond location in October, two months after his stroke, he was discouraged, but hopeful that physical therapy would be the thing that worked for him.

Richmond’s clinic director and physical therapist Dr. Andrew Horton and physical therapy assistant Sarah Shoen got him straight to work.

For stroke patients like Corrente, there are simple exercises you can do to improve balance and strength – small movements that retrain the brain and the muscles to act the way they used to, moving up to bigger movements to strengthen muscles. Three times a week, at first, Corrente would come in and practice these exercises. And slowly but surely, he started improving.

“Even when he didn’t feel like he was going to get better, he still bought into the process,” said Dr. Horton. “He knew if he listened to us and stuck with it, he would get the results he was looking for.”

An added challenge for Corrente was that he was a smoker who hadn’t exercised in 40 years, with chronic back pain caused by a three-story fall years before. As Corrente’s balance and strength started to return, Dr. Horton and Shoen turned their attention to his back and aerobic ability. They worked with Corrente to build up aerobic endurance and started dry needling his back. The relief from dry needling was immediate.

“I could never really walk straight up after my back injury,” Corrente said. “But a couple needles, a little bit of electricity, and now I can.” He paused. “It’s life-changing.”

Corrente said in addition to the knowledge and skills the Richmond staff helped him learn, one thing he was so grateful for was the compassion he was shown from everyone in the office – from Susan Fulmer at the front desk to Shoen to Dr. Horton. “You need compassion,” Corrente said, “because people are damaged when they get here.”

As he improved, Corrente reduced his visits to twice and then once a week, and at the end of January, he graduated from physical therapy. His balance is back, and though he still has some weakness in his arm, he’s able to walk around and move without a walker or cane.

Though he still comes in for dry needling of his back, Corrente said he’s back to running his business, taking care of his family, and, in a big change, taking better care of himself. This month, Dr. Horton even helped Corrente sign up for his first gym membership at the local gym, and plans to drop in to give Corrente a few pointers and instruction. Corrente said the whole experience of getting physical therapy and learning the importance of exercise was a turning point for him.

“Your team made a believer out of me,” Corrente said. “You helped an old man get back on the street again. You’re like angels to me.”