After Suffering Stroke, Chiropractor Using Brainpower to Help Other Stroke Victims
There are only about 300 chiropractors in the United States who are certified to practice Brain-Based Therapy (BBT). A clinical, functional neurological protocol developed by Dr. Fred Carrick, the country's leading chiropractic neurologist, BBT utilizes traditional chiropractic instruments and/or adjustments, but they are used in a very precise manner to stimulate function in the affected part of the brain. Essentially, it involves making parts of the brain work again.
Of these 300 practitioners, it's likely that 51-year-old Greg Symko had the most personal motive for pursuing this innovative chiropractic approach. The reason? Symko had firsthand experience with the principles of BBT when he had a stroke himself almost 11 years ago and had to make his own brain work again. And with this life-changing event and his intensive study of BBT behind him, he now uses his knowledge to help other stroke victims recover from their own debilitating issues.
Symko's stroke occurred back in April 1999. Already a successful chiropractor, he was in a friend's office when he knew something was wrong.
"The room just started to flip-flop," recalled Symko. "He helped me onto the couch, and he could see that my eyes were flying all over the place. The world was spinning around me. I couldn't even speak."
An MRI at Emerson Hospital revealed that he had suffered five minor strokes in his cerebellum, the area of the brain that affects virtually everything we normally do. He was transferred to Brigham and Women's Hospital, where he remained for about a week. Once stabilized he was sent to New England Rehabilitation Hospital (NERH) for six weeks of inpatient rehabilitation. The challenge would be formidable: he couldn't walk or sit up, he had numbness on the left side of his body and the right side of his face, and he had trouble speaking. His goals were modest - to get out of his wheelchair, walk with a walker, and go to the bathroom.
For the first four weeks of his rehab regimen, Symko's therapists put him through vigorous exercises, trying help his brain regain its "muscle memory." When he eventually left the facility, he did it with a walker; he was able to leave the wheelchair behind.
Despite the progress he had made, he had a long way to go. He still couldn't see very well. He was able to eat whole foods but his taste and smell had been affected. His voice would crack when he talked, and he was constantly fatigued.
"I tried to get my body to do certain things, but it just wouldn't do them," he recalled. "I wanted to go back to being a chiropractor, but in my present condition it was not going to happen."
Symko began a six-week outpatient program to get as close to normal as possible. At his insistence, he and his therapists devised a rehab regimen that challenged the parts of his brain that were damaged. For balance, he tossed a ball back and forth while moving from side to side. He would also walk up a flight of stairs, bending over and picking up objects. To improve his vision, he would focus on non-complex objects and shapes while walking, then attempt to focus on complex objects and shapes like trees or plants.
Once Symko left rehab, he continued these exercises on his own, adding barrel rolls, spinning and running. All of these activities helped "exercise" his brain and improve his neurological function. What's more, these activities - classic examples of BBT - would form the foundation of his interest in this area years later.
"Overall it was a positive experience," he said. "I couldn't have gone that far without them."
It took awhile before he was able to return to the working world, but he did so in 2002 as a drug safety officer for a pharmaceutical company. After four years there, he returned to chiropractic, working in a small office owned by another chiropractor (he had sold off his own business years before). Finally, in 2008, he opened up Symko Chiropractic Neurology (www.concordbbt.com) in Concord, MA. Besides his traditional chiropractic techniques, he uses BBT principles to treat people with strokes - people who are undergoing the same problems he has experienced over the last decade.
He still has some minor pain. He used to be an avid runner but can't run anymore because of the pain. He says he is a little "loopy" occasionally and he sometimes has a problem focusing. But he continues to improve and is now able to run about 20 minutes a day without significant pain. His sense of smell is slightly improved and food tastes better (although it has to be very spicy).
He's also well enough to help other stroke victims regain function and a sense of normalcy. He's even writing a book about his experiences. And despite the trials and tribulations he went through, he insists he wouldn't change a thing.
"This stroke was sort of a blessing in disguise for me," said Symko. "Even though I went through hell, it led me to help other people who have had strokes. Because I know what it feels like, I've been there. New England Rehab had a lot to do with that."