Mishawaka woman tries experimental therapy after surviving massive stroke

August 9 will mark the one year anniversary of a very dark day for a young Michiana family.

That is when their young, athletic wife and mother had a massive stroke, that she miraculously survived, but was left with lasting disabilities.

Julie McNamee of Mishawaka spent weeks in the hospital and outpatient rehab, and while she made huge strides, her improvement hit a wall.

That is when she and her family decided to look into a treatment not yet approved by the FDA for stroke patients, but is showing promise.

It is called hyperbaric oxygen therapy.

After suffering a massive stroke on August 9, 2010 at just 47 years old, Julie had come a long way in 9 months, but still had some paralysis on her left side and needed the use of a wheel chair or cane and had seizures.

"You know I had a very significant stroke and the whole left side of my body was paralyzed so I did have some improvement before the dives started, my eye was drooping and my mouth was drooling,” she said.

In May, they travelled to Rockford, Illinois to the Rockford Hyperbaric Healing Center.

President Joe Sharp said they see varying improvements depending on the patient.

"We see anything from subtle improvements to quality of life to just miraculous where people were talking and they start talking, but for most people it is a gradual process,” Sharp said.

Hyperbaric oxygen therapy involves breathing pure oxygen in a pressurized room and is most commonly used to treat infections and wounds that will not heal.

But Sharp said more studies are underway involving its use for stroke patients.

Since hyperbaric therapy is not being used for strokes in our area, the McNamee family decided to pay for 40 dives every other day at a total cost of $7,000. And while that may sound like a lot out of pocket, when hyperbaric is covered by insurance for approved use, like treating wounds, hospitals often get $2,000 "per dive."

Julie said there was a definite improvement, but her left arm is still paralyzed.

With two daughters in college and two sons at St. Joseph High School, Julie and Mark said the hardest part of the treatment was having to leave town.

Julie said the treatment itself was a breeze.

And Julie, who has a special exercise bike for rehab, says she has more strength and had ridden her stationary wheels 25 miles the day before our interview.

Mark says in addition to Julie's strength, they also believe the hyperbaric therapy may have stopped his wife’s seizures.

"We talk about the fact that she hasn't had a seizure since May 22, so overall a lot more stable,” Mark said. "Julie was having them about every five weeks, so you know close to two months now."

Still, Mark admits Julie's recovery is like a journey and hyperbaric is just part of their hope for a full recovery.

“Julie is on a path, that's the way I look at this and the path doesn't necessarily have any guarantee's for us, but there's also no real end to the path after hyper I mean there's other therapy we can look at like stem cell, which right now is not done in this country but done in Germany and Japan,” Mark said.

The McNamee family is hopeful enough with the treatment that this week they are back in Rockford and Julie is going through ten more dives.

Her last dive is on their 29th wedding anniversary, and beforehand, Julie, Mark and their kids will celebrate.

"We're going to the Cubs game the day before,” she said.

Since it can take months for the full effects of hyperbaric therapy to show results, NewsCenter16 will check back in with the McNamee family in a few months to see how Julie and the rest of the family are doing.

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