Stroke Survivor Uses Her Art to Aid Recovery

Don’t ignore the early warning signs of a stroke. For internationally acclaimed textile artist and educator Lindsay Obermeyer, her first sign was double vision while having dinner with her daughter.

“Suddenly there were two of her,” Obermeyer recalls.

She went to the internet to search for a reason for her symptoms. “I read that it could be stress, which was possible because I was in the middle of my biggest art commission project, or that I needed new glasses. Or—it could be a stroke.”

The next morning, Obermeyer went to pick up a coffee cup and the mug fell from her hand. “All of a sudden, the whole left side of my body drooped and I couldn’t pick up my arm,” she says. “I was drooling.”

Her daughter called 9-1-1. Obermeyer was taken to Barnes-Jewish Hospital for an immediate stroke evaluation and treatment. Obermeyer had an ischemic stroke, the most common type. Doctors gave her the clot-busting drug tPA.

What Obermeyer didn’t know was her early double vision was a symptom of a transient ischemic attack, or TIA, which is sometimes called a mini-stroke. Symptoms, which can include sudden vision problems, dizziness, headaches, confusion or Lindsay Obermeyer, Stroke Survivortrouble speaking. They sometimes last a few hours or a day before disappearing. A TIA can be a critical warning sign that a true stroke may occur. 40-percent of people who have a TIA will develop an actual stroke and many will have a stroke within days after a TIA. For Obermeyer, it was a matter of hours.

As she progressed in her recovery, Obermeyer became involved in her neurologist’s research project. The Social Networks and Stroke Recovery Project at Washington University School of Medicine examines the impact a stroke patient’s social network has on their recovery. Based on the research, Obermeyer created beautiful crocheted mandalas that artistically depict the social networks of stroke survivors.

“I adopted the visual metaphor of tree ring diagrams to show the changes of networks over time within one image, something the social network research software was unable to do. It’s a way of diagramming visually those social connections of stroke survivors that are important for recovery,” she says.

More than just artistic expression, though, her work helped restore her own visual balance. “The stroke affects my left side, so I was visually imbalanced,” Obermeyer explains. “Crocheting these mandalas helped me recover from that.” Mandalas have long been used as a symbol of healing.

Since her stroke, Obermeyer has created hundreds of mandalas and others have joined the project. “Many mandalas were Mandalas Represent Social Network for Stroke Survivorscontributed by other patients who learned of me working in the Arts and Healthcare room. Mandalas have been received from around the metro region and as far away as Greece.”

She also started crocheting them in local coffee shops, thereby increasing her own social network. “I think this art project played a huge role in my recovery and it serves as a way for me to build stroke awareness,” she says.

In the Center for Advanced Medicine at Barnes-Jewish Hospital, a large wall now is filled with Obermeyer ’s artwork. “It’s exciting when you’re given that much space to work with,” she says. “I wanted to educate anybody who came in there about strokes and the symptoms of stroke.”

She adds, “The artwork is important to me because the more you know how to recognize the symptoms, the sooner you can get to the hospital. It could save your own life or the life of a family member or friend. Art is my passion and it also can serve a great purpose.”

Obermeyer’s work is in the national collection of Sweden and has been displayed in galleries and museums around the world, including the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston and the Museum of Fine Art and Design in New York.

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Category: Neurology & Neurosurgery

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Barnes-Jewish Hospital at Washington University Medical Center is the largest hospital in Missouri and the largest private employer in the St. Louis region. An affiliated teaching hospital of Washington University School of Medicine, Barnes-Jewish Hospital has a 1,800 member medical staff with many who are recognized as "Best Doctors in America." They are supported by residents, interns and fellows, in addition to nurses, technicians and other health-care professionals.

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