Botox has surprising benefits for stroke survivors - FOX 8 WVUE New Orleans News, Weather, Sports

Botox has surprising benefits for stroke survivors

New Orleans, La. -

At age 29, New Orleanian Sarah Abrusley was living a fabulous full life with her husband Damien. The professional ballerina was also fulfilling her dream on stage performing around the world. Then, in September of 2007, she says she awoke with the worst headache of her life.

"So I stand up from my bed and already the left side of my body is paralyzed.  But in fact I did not realize it. I began to walk and I realized I'm not walking well," said Abrusley.

Her husband rushed her to a nearby emergency room where hours later they would learn she had suffered a stroke.

"Everybody knew me as Sarah the ballerina.  But suddenly here I am unable to dance.  The stroke rendered the entire left side of my body unusable, completely paralyzed in fact," said Abrusley.

Sarah says an abnormality with blood vessels in her brain caused the stroke that shattered her life. Doctors say strokes are like a storm in your brain that interrupts your normal blood flow of much needed oxygen and can lead to paralysis.

Sarah, though, was determined to reclaim her body and her perseverance paid off. Within a month she was walking again but with limitations on her left side Her left arm, for example, was unusable. Her muscles were so tight she could not open her tight-fisted hand. It's a condition known as spasticity. But that changed last year when she started a new unlikely treatment.

She started receiving injections of the popular cosmetic product Botox, the trade name for botulinum toxin, normally used for smoothing out wrinkles.  Botox injections in Sarah's arm, administered every three to four months, proved the treatment is not just for preserving youthfulness -- it's also useful in restoring life in limbs of stroke survivors.

"More and more my fingers are relaxed.  Everyday I can very readily take my wedding ring on and off," said Abrusley.

The Botox also helped improve her ability to walk on her job as a concierge at a local hotel. When the injections relaxed the tightness in the muscles of her left hand, it also helped improved her overall balance.

"Some of my patients are surprised when I mention Botox," said Dr. Andrea Toomer, who specializes in physical medicine and rehabilitation.

But she says her stroke patients grappling with restricted movement in their arms and legs are quickly convinced of its value, once they see results in a week. At the Culicchia Neurological clinic she uses the Botox treatment on at least 20 patients.

"So if you are affected in your right arm and you can't relax your arm, we can use Botox at a high dose so you're not left very tight and unable to relax on your own," added Dr. Toomer.

Although physicians at the West Bank clinic have been using Botox for non-cosmetic reasons since 2001, the use of it specifically for stroke victims wasn't widely known among other doctors and patients until recently.  That's because it was only two years ago when the manufacturer started marketing Botox for that particular use.

Right now physicians such as Dr. Toomer are trying to get the word out on this treatment.

"So many patients whose family members can't open their hands... you can imagine. How do you cut your fingernails?  You can also cut your hands with your nails and you're open to infections being like this," added Dr. Toomer.

Slidell residents Joe Pastorek and his son Jeremy know all too well the benefits of Botox injections in treating the devastating impacts of a stroke.

Just three years ago the then-28-year-old was a law student at Mississippi College.  Shortly after undergoing heart surgery, a blood clot formed and he suffered a massive stroke that paralyzed the left side of his body.  Making matters worse, he says his wife left him. 

With tears rolling down his face, in a monotone voice caused by the stroke, the 31-year-old man describes his life now as serious hell.  "Because I'm so miserable. I have no independence. I can't even make food," said Jeremy Pastorek.

In spite of Jeremy's heartbreaking new reality though, his father says his treatment of Botox injections have helped him make progress and its given him hope of having use of his left arm.

"Whenever you tried to manipulate his arm and stretch it out to keep it from contracting he would feel pain . Now he can do it a lot and he doesn't feel any pain from it, " said Jeremy's dad, Joe.

In the case of 57-year-old New Orleanian Carolyn Lewis, she's new to the treatment, about six months into it.  But already she's looking forward to getting more independence because of the Botox injections.

"I will be able to use a regular can opener.  At one time had to wait for someone to come home or just be in the house to open a can," said Carolyn Lewis.

"To be able to put my hands up and work my hair is something I long to do myself," she added.

For patients like Carolyn, Jeremy and Sarah, you can call their medical injections the surprising Botox benefits.  Their hope is that other stroke survivors too will have as much success as they have had, using a cosmetic product that's helping them reclaim some control of their bodies and their lives.

To learn more about this contact the clinic at 504-340-6976 or go online to their site at

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