SPRING HILL — In December 2011, Suzanne Hill suffered a stroke that was so severe, she had to be flown immediately to Bayfront Health St. Petersburg and was not sure she would survive.
But after hospitalization, three months in a rehabilitation facility and a novel approach to recovery, Hill, 75, said recently: "I've been told you wouldn't know I've had a stroke by appearances."
It is the novel approach that Hill and some of her local rehabilitators want to spread the word about and introduce to other stroke victims. It starts with an iPad or iPhone and has grown into the iPad Users Group for Stroke Recovery, which meets at the H2U Partner's Club on the campus of Oak Hill Hospital.
"My son and his wife knew about computer apps," Hill said.
Her son, David Hill of Bow, N.H., researched applications while also learning about stroke support groups, then coached his mother.
"The applications are on my laptop," Hill said. "I'm on it most of the time. There are 15 applications that I can use. I just enjoy it so much. There's no chore to any of this for me."
Indeed, some of the apps are games, such as Scrabble or connect-the-dots. Some resemble putting the user back in an elementary school classroom, such as viewing a picture of a dog, then selecting the letters from an alphabet jumble to spell d-o-g.
"I have limitations on my right side," Hill acknowledged. "My right hand is not so flexible, (but) my typing skills are coming back."
Hill's diminished right-side mobility, reduced peripheral vision and slight slurring of speech brought Renee Payne into the picture. Payne drives for Hill and, as a former speech therapist, has helped Hill regain clearer speech and short-term memory loss.
Payne said of Hill: "She's come so far in two years it is really surprising. What has given her the most use and recovery are all these apps on the iPad."
Payne and Hill carried the message to Stephanie Sutton of the H2U Partner's Club, which offers 13 support groups for local residents with medical issues. Sutton, Payne and Hill established the iPad Users Group for Stroke Recovery, which currently meets once a month, with plans to eventually meet more frequently, "because we've seen so much improvement, so much more rapidly" with constant involvement, Sutton said.
The applicable applications, labeled for stroke recovery or stroke rehabilitation — most free, a few costing 99 cents each — are available at Internet app "stores." They can be downloaded to an iPad or iPhone.
The apps are "relearning tools," said Payne, "that can help you increase your memory and motor functions, hand-eye coordination, and are progressive complexity programs.
"People can do them at home," she said, but may benefit from learning in the user group, which has a couple of devices available for use at the Partner's Club.
Without word about the group having been spread, two people showed up for the first meeting in July.
"We're hoping to keep the group small to start with, then hope it grows," said Sutton.
"I just really think this is something that's going to help people."
Hill said she has seen many benefits.
"I can now do one thing at a time and not lose my train of thought," she said. "I can walk with the best of them. I can spell like a banshee. I've been able to live by myself. I do beautifully alone. I just keep getting better and better."
Beth Gray can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.