After a stroke, a Soldier Nurse Practitioner embraces help from SRU.

By MaryTherese GriffinMay 23, 2024

1 / 4 Show Caption + Hide Caption – (Photo Credit: U.S. Army) VIEW ORIGINAL
After a stroke, a Soldier Nurse Practitioner embraces help from SRU.
2 / 4 Show Caption + Hide Caption – (Photo courtesy Chelsea Johnson)

Major Cheslea Johnson finds therapeutic benefits with skiing during her recovery at the JBLM Soldier Recovery Unit. (Photo Credit: Courtesy)
After a stroke, a Soldier Nurse Practitioner embraces help from SRU.
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Glass-blowing art therapy by Maj. Chelsea Johnson. (Photo Credit: Courtesy)
After a stroke, a Soldier Nurse Practitioner embraces help from SRU.
4 / 4 Show Caption + Hide Caption – (Photo courtesy of Chelsea Johnson)

The Johnson Family at Christmas 2023. (Photo Credit: Courtesy)

FALLS CHURCH, Va.,—Maj. Chelsea Johnson has many years of service in the U.S. military. She started in the Air Force, and when she earned her nursing degree, she wanted to be commissioned. “She‘s been in 31 years, joined active guard and reserve, and started Air Force. She came in as a logistics technician and got out and went into the Guard, and they paid for nursing school. She was commissioned, and the AF didn't have much for her, so she joined the Army, said her husband, Michael.

The Air Force's loss was the Army’s gain. Johnson worked as a Nurse Practitioner at Joint Base Lewis McChord(JBLM). She was full of life, vibrant, and very good at her job. Then, in August of 2022, her husband shared details of a night that changed their lives forever. “It was an ordinary day for the most part, and Chelsea awoke in the middle of the night and was paralyzed. I'm a physician’s assistant, and I worked at a remote village a couple hundred miles from Fairbanks, so she was home alone. It was Sunday night, and she was scheduled to go to work Monday. One of her Soldiers was concerned he couldn’t reach her on Monday, so he called her, but she didn’t answer. Luckily, he found it odd and out of character, so he took it upon himself to call law enforcement to do a welfare check, and they ended up busting the door down and found her. She had had a stroke.”

Since there was no family history of stroke, the two medical professionals have their theory. “Kind of a strange coincidence, as we both work in medicine, two weeks before her stroke, she had COVID and was coughing rather hard, and from the coughing, we think there was an issue with the left carotid artery, which caused a tear and blood leaked and formed a clot that broke off and traveled to her brain causing a stroke,” according to Michael.

Chelsea bravely explains, determined to speak, the effects the stroke had on her. “Mostly speech! I. Wasn’t. Speaking. At. First,” said the mother of two adult children. Her husband, Michael, assists with her answers, having gone through this journey together to regain what Chelsea lost.

“She wants to tell you after her stroke, she had some rehab PT, she had a right-sided weakness, and had occupational medicine. The more prominent part is the aphasia, so speech therapy is where she is constantly working,” said Michael.

Michael shared how different it was at the beginning of the recovery journey. “ It was very different from the beginning. It was quiet in the house. She’s been the glue to our family. This is a woman who is very articulate and boisterous. Her voice not being present in the home was weird. She was here, but her voice was not.”

She was familiar with the JBLM Soldier Recovery Unit (SRU) from working with hospital nurse case managers and others. “She appreciates the care she’s receiving at the SRU. She’s ok being in the passenger seat,” laughs Michael.

As a passenger, Johnson shares her favorite part of recovery at the SRU. “Equine. Therapy,” she says confidently.

“She’s taken advantage of so much- says Michael. “She does glass-blowing skiing, art, music, mindfulness, and has even gone on some fishing trips. She’s done things she’s never done before and is a pretty good skier!”

“I’ve. Never. Skied.” “I.Want.To.Ski.Again,” said Chelsea.

“We’ve come a long way in less than two years. She can communicate much better now,” said Michael.

The high school sweethearts with a 26 and 31-year-old are thankful for the SRU and all those who’ve helped in Chelsea’s recovery. “Tasha, the Nurse Case Manager, is awesome. Dave Iuli is amazing, and so is Phyllis, the occupational therapist, “ said Michael. Then Chelsea added, “I. Like. Everyone. At. The. SRU!”

She wrote a beautiful poem in one of her art classes, mentioning all she did in the SRU. It reads: I am a Nurse Practitioner, busy. I had a stroke. Then silence. Now I am fishing, riding horses, glass blowing, cooking, arts, skiing, and singing.

Michael says his active-duty wife amazes him with her progress. ” We are going through the med board process. We never know how that will go, but we are preparing for a new adventure after October if that’s the case.”

Proud of her 31 years of service and her recovery at the SRU, she struggles to speak words she forcefully sends as a message to future Soldiers facing adversity.

“You. ARE. Winning!” says Chelsea. Her husband explains: “She is saying that even though you have something like she has, you know, the aphasia, you are still you and to keep working because you are winning!”

Statistically, medical experts say your maximum gain after a stroke will be within the first year. Thanks to Chelsea’s determination and the JBLM—SRU, Michael says she is not part of those numbers. “We see progress every day and will continue to believe it, as we see that in real-time.”