When doctors told Kelli Chatwin she would never walk and might never speak again, she just batted her eyelashes - the only thing she could do - and determined she would prove them wrong.
With the whirlwind of Christmas behind them, Chatwin, 26, and her two young children were just preparing for the day, Dec. 26, 1993, when she suffered a massive stroke. "I was home getting ready to shower, it was just me and my kids. I called my parents and told them to call the ambulance - I could talk then," she said.Chatwin remembers being taken to American Fork Hospital and then being immediately transferred to Utah Valley Regional Medical Center. But soon after that transfer she slipped into a coma and remained that way for a week.
Chatwin's stroke was brought on by a blood clot in the basilar artery in the back part of the brain, affecting the brain stem where all the motor tracks are located. She was sent to a neurologist at the University of Utah Medical Center. But the doctors didn't have much hope.
"A doctor in Salt Lake City told Curtis (Chatwin's husband) I would be a vegetable and in a rest home the rest of my life," Chatwin said. By Jan. 17 she had been sent back to Utah Valley Regional Medical Center to start rehabilitation treatments.
"We asked her to blink once for yes and twice for no - sometimes she couldn't even do that," said Karalee Stokes, physical therapist. "She was like a Raggedy Ann doll."
The road to recovery wasn't easy. Before therapists started working on her speech, they started physical therapy. Chatwin went through hours and hours of therapy at the hospital and then went home, where her husband would continue the exercises.
It was hard, "but you just do it," Curtis Chatwin said. "You want to be the way you were, so you just do it."
According to Kelli Chatwin and her doctors, the miracle she was looking for happened. She started moving her legs, sitting up and walking.
Chatwin's rehabilitation covered multiple disciplines including occupational, speech, physical and recreational therapy. She had to relearn everything from combing her hair to home management and leisure activities. Once the physical therapy was advancing, the speech pathologists began their work.
"She wasn't able to manipulate her lips or tongue," said Paul Osborn, Chatwin's speech language pathologist. "Her soft palate didn't even work. A mouthpiece device was made to fit in and lift the palate so the tongue could form the sounds.
In the beginning, therapists used one-way speaking valves on Chatwin's neck. Those didn't work well. Then they used a communication board, where she could point to words.
"The scariest thing was I knew inside what was happening," Kelli Chatwin said. "I wanted to talk, but I couldn't."
Chatwin's visits to Utah Valley's rehabilitation center are now down to once a week. "We didn't think she would go as far as she has already," Osborn said."In Kelli's case, we expect her to continue to improve for years."
The first day Kelli Chatwin left rehabilitation as a full-time patient, she went camping with her family. Now she is looking forward to the day when she can drive again. "I want to be normal," she said. That's her goal.