Therapy Team Celebrates Local Man’s Achievements in Stroke Recovery

West Knoxville residents Joe and Mary Kemp have been married for 47 years. They have two children and five grandchildren whom they adore. However, this past year has brought more unexpected challenges than they ever imagined.

Joe Kemp with his therapy team.
Joe Kemp credits his team of therapists for recovery from a stroke. Pictured left to right: Jenna Whipple, speech-language pathologist; Margaret Keele, clinical specialist; Joe Kemp and Bethany Edmond, clinical specialist.

Joe suffered a sudden stroke in October 2020 and their entire lives changed. He says it was by the grace of God, a lot of hard work and compassionate caregivers at Covenant Health Therapy Center – West Knoxville that he’s still here and doing so well. Sitting at their grandson’s evening baseball game one night, Joe went “from 100 to zero.” Mary recalls the frightening experience of calling 911 after Joe’s entire right side became immobile. He couldn’t move or speak. He was rushed to the nearest hospital where he began the fight of his
life.

Joe spent six days in critical care. He doesn’t remember much from that time, but Mary’s memories are vivid. “We didn’t think he was going to make it,” she says. “We were told that it didn’t look good. It was a different kind of stroke — not the kind where you have a clot and can get that clot-busting drug.”

Hemorrhagic Stroke

Joe suffered an active onset hemorrhagic stroke, which occurs when a weak blood vessel bursts and bleeds into the brain. Hemorrhagic strokes are less common, making up about 15 percent of stroke cases, but they are often deadlier. After he was stabilized, Joe was able to transfer from the hospital to Patricia Neal Rehabilitation Center in downtown Knoxville, a rehabilitation facility for patients who have suffered brain and spine injuries, and other neurological conditions like stroke. He stayed there for five weeks.

After leaving the Patricia Neal Rehabilitation Center, Joe began outpatient rehabilitation at Covenant Health Therapy Center – West Knoxville, near their home. The staff at Patricia Neal Rehabilitation Center works closely with the team at Covenant Health Therapy Centers to achieve the best possible outcomes.

Walking the Walk

Margaret W. Keele, PT, DPT, GCS, CSRS, CEEAA, is a geriatric clinical specialist, certified stroke rehab specialist and certified exercise expert for aging adults. She is a passionate physical therapist who has helped patients for over a decade. When Keele met Joe, he was still using a wheelchair. Slowly, she helped him with his goal of standing, walking short distances and going up and down stairs. Joe was able to transition from a wheelchair to a cane, and after months of physical therapy, he now walks unassisted with a special leg brace. When he took a few steps on his own for the first time during therapy, Mary recalls everyone in the place cheering with joy. “It was just a miracle,” she says. “He has always loved playing with our grandkids, and it’s been hard on them to see their Papaw struggle. I just tried to encourage him. If he ever had a project or something had to be done, he never quits until he achieves what he’s set out to do. I knew he wouldn’t stop this either.”

Bethany Edmond, MS, OT, clinical specialist, has worked with Joe to increase movement in his right arm, shoulder and hand. “Bethany was an important part of Joe’s recovery at Covenant Health Therapy Center-West Knoxville,” adds Mary.

Therapist Margaret stretching leg.
Clinical specialist Margaret Keele guides Joe Kemp through special exercises at Covenant Health Therapy Center – West Knoxville.

Talking the Talk

Because communication ability is often affected with a stroke, part of Joe’s rehab included swallowing exercises and speech therapy with speech-language pathologist Jenna Whipple, MA, CCC-SLP. “When I first met Mr. Kemp, he relied mostly on his wife to communicate. He was able to answer simple questions, but it was difficult and frustrating for
him to do so,” says Whipple. Joe emphasizes that he can think clearly but can’t always express himself. “I can’t talk as well as I think,” he says. “Jenna helps me with words I have trouble with. All of them have been great.” Whipple says, “Mr. Kemp was extremely motivated to make progress. By the time he was discharged from therapy, he was able to communicate using his own words and sentences, even telling personal stories, which he hadn’t done since his stroke in October. As a therapist, this brought tears to my eyes. To finally be able to express his thoughts, feelings and ideas — you can’t beat that!”

“God’s Not Finished Yet”

It brings tears to Mary’s eyes when she recalls everything her husband has been through. They both express the importance of family support during this time, as well as the power of prayer. “We have a strong church community who were praying for us every day,” she recalls. Joe, who still struggles with clear speech, reaches for his wife’s hand and says, with purpose, “This is why I’m still here. She is the love of my life.”

The pair says they know Joe survived because God is not yet finished with him. “Our God moves mountains and causes walls to fall,” she says confidently. Joe adds, “When I was at Pat Neal, I was bad off. I had a dream that God came to me and He asked me, ‘do you want to live?’” Joe pauses and speaks as clearly as he can. Eyes sparkle says, “and I said that I did.”

Safe and Effective TreatmentBEFAST description

Physical therapy is the treatment or management of physical problems like disability and pain using drug-free, non-invasive treatments. Specially designed exercises, massage, aquatic therapy and other tools can help reverse damage, return function and restore quality of life. Covenant Health Therapy Center – West Knoxville offers individualized physical rehabilitation, including specialty services like rehabilitation for cancer patients, amputees and survivors of stroke.

Covenant Health Therapy Center – West Knoxville is a department of Parkwest Medical Center. Depending on your insurance plan, you may be able to self-refer for physical therapy, occupational therapy and speech therapy at Covenant Health Therapy Centers. For information, call (865) 531-5710 or visit CovenantHealth.com/TherapyCenters.