A Stroke of Genius
Bedford Teen Creates Unique Website for his Oma
Photo by Rana Faure
Every year, more than 705,000 people in the United States have a stroke. On November 16 last year, that statistic became personal for the Dochtermann family in Bedford when the matriarch, Maren Dochtermann, collapsed without warning.
“My brother Gryphon and I were having an early dinner with Oma like we did every week,” recalls Jaeger Dochtermann, then a senior at Fox Lane High School. “As we were leaving, something seemed off. She was standing and smiling and then suddenly she sat down.” Gryphon added: “Her speech was slurred, and one side of her face seemed droopy. It all happened within 20 seconds.”
The brothers called 911 and within minutes the Bedford EMT, police, and fire departments arrived and whisked her away to Northern Westchester Hospital. Realizing she needed a higher level of trauma care, the NWH emergency room personnel administered TPA, a blood clot buster, and sent her to Westchester Medical Center in Valhalla.
The family was understandably devastated, and the teens felt helpless that they couldn’t do anything for her. “I Googled for information and only found technical data on strokes,” Jaeger says. “But there weren’t any practical suggestions that I could act on. I didn’t want my role to be just an occasional visitor, first at the Neuro ICU and later at the rehabilitation center. We all wanted to know what we could do to be actively involved in her recovery.”
Over the next few months, Jaeger created Grandma HadAStroke.com, to take what he and his family learned as caregivers through the recovery process and present it in an easy to read and understand format. He met and interviewed doctors, physical and occupational therapists, nurses, aides, patients, and other families. “The experience of putting this project together has taught me a great deal about strokes and caring for loved ones,” he says. “There are clearly many other families placed into a similar situation, like ours, in need of a helpful resource.”
Every stroke is different, just as every patient is different. But the Dochtermanns learned a universal truth during this process: that a little bit of humor goes a long way in staying positive and being supportive. Luckily, Maren herself kept a sense of humor throughout the ordeal. “When I first woke up at Westchester Medical Center, I wanted to make sure I could still speak German [in addition to English, French, and Portuguese], so when doctors asked if I knew where I was, I responded ‘Ich bin in Walhalla!’ I thought it was hilarious that I was in Valhalla—where Germans go to die.”
The family devised some ingenious solutions to address the depression commonly associated with post-stroke sufferers and their families. Together they created Daily Doodles—funny jokes, riddles, haikus, and drawings that they would tape to the walls of her room. “Not only did these silly sayings jump start the mind, but they helped form a community,” Jaeger says. “Other patients would come in to see the latest doodle or to add one of their own.” By the time Maren left the recovery facility, there were 135 doodles, one for each day she spent there. Her favorite? A drawing of three whales with the caption: “Whale, whale, whale. What have we here?”
The family found that Amazon’s Alexa was a good way to keep Maren feeling connected. She could ask it for the time, or to call someone, or listen to music. “A lot of the people caring for me were from Jamaica, so I would have Alexa play Bob Marley and they would be dancing all over the room,” Maren recalls with a smile.
She is continuing to recover at home, exercising in the pool, and walking on the decking overlooking their property. While her left side remains paralyzed, Maren has made great progress, which daughter-in-law Christina credits to the “outstanding” physical therapy she receives at NWH at Chappaqua Crossings.
Gryphon was so moved by the family’s experience that he started training to be an EMT and is now a part of the Junior Corps at the Bedford Fire Department. Jaeger, now at college, hopes that others can benefit from the content gathered on the website and make the recovery of their loved ones a little easier. And of course, Maren couldn’t be prouder of her grandsons. “I am blown away by them—they are an inspiration to me.”
Grandma Had a Stroke
- Create a “Magic Box” for the tray table with everything a patient needs close by: eye drops, tissues, lip balm, remotes.
- Ask everyone in your support network to share a photo a day with your loved one.
- Take a photo of all paper work and ID badges so it’s handy on your mobile device when you need it.