Ruth Steinbraker

“You did two steps today!” Maureen, PTA exclaimed excitedly in the gym. With labored breath, 32-year-old Ruth Steinbraker sat and rested, a giant smile creasing her face. After a moment, Ruthie — as her mother, Sarah, calls her — continued her physical therapy, walking around the gym and stepping on-and-off an elevated pad. Under Ruth’s chin rests a piece of gauze covering the wound from her tracheostomy, recently removed.

“Even up to a couple of weeks ago, I can’t believe just how far she has come,” Sarah says, almost incredulously.

Just two months ago, her daughter suffered from a major stroke. “She called me and told me she could not move her left arm. She was sending the signals, but they weren’t going through.”

After two emergency trips to the hospital, Ruth’s tests came back positive for blood clots. “The doctors needed us to get to MUSC as quickly as possible,” Sarah noted.

So off they sped in an ambulance to save Ruth.

After an initial diagnosis of a major stroke, Ruth was put into a medically-induced coma so she could heal. Sarah noted that Ruth started off with a tube in her mouth to breathe for her, but moved to a full tracheostomy to support her respiratory function.

“When I asked the doctors if I would ever be able to bring Ruthie home, they said no,” Sarah recalled sadly.

This was devastating news for Sarah. “I had never been around people with strokes before, so I didn’t know what all to expect,” Sarah said.

Once out of the coma, Ruth showed signs of improvement in cognition and movement of her left side. After some time and much improvement, Ruthie transferred to Vibra Hospital of Charleston with the goal of weaning off the ventilator. “She was a tough case at first,” noted Kyra, RN. “She didn’t want to participate and she needed help with everything. I was worried about her.”

However, after her first week at Vibra, there was a change. “I really saw her spirits lift,” Kyra said. And lift they did, for a good reason. Working hard on breathing again, Ruth tried the tracheostomy collar, a common step in vent weaning where Ruth had to breathe on her own. It was not an easy step to take. But with the guidance of the respiratory team at Vibra, she was in good hands. “Vent weaning is what we do here,” said Ryan, the director of respiratory at the hospital. “It’s what we are known for.”

After that first week, and all the hard work Ruthie put in, the respiratory team capped her trach. After three days of careful observation, the team noted it was time to liberate Ruth altogether from mechanical ventilation. “There’s still a long way to go to getting Ruth back to normal,” Sarah stated, “but having the vent and feeding tube removed has put her in the right direction.”

Having finished up a spirit-raising physical therapy session, Ruth wheeled back to her room where a hot lunch waited. There may be a long road ahead for Ruth, but with her spirit and drive, she will be there before she knows it.