Botox injections help Triad man recover from stroke
The seven bass guitars in Vincent Heath’s apartment serve as a reminder of his past as an award-winning gospel musician, as well as inspiration for his future.
The 52-year-old Winston-Salem resident hasn’t played any of those guitars since June 15, 2010 — the day he suffered a massive stroke that crippled the left side of his body.
But thanks to modern medicine and technology, Heath has relearned how to play the bass — on an iPad. He has even occasionally rejoined his fellow musicians at St. John CME Church to play his beloved gospel music, with his iPad wired to amplifiers.
Heath is an acknowledged workaholic, something that likely led to the high blood pressure that may have contributed to his stroke. His determination and strong work ethic, however, have aided his recovery, along with injections of botulinum toxin.
The botulinum toxin used in those injections is a purified form of the virulent substance that may appear in improperly canned foods and cause the illness botulism. It has several uses, including cosmetic procedures. Botulinum toxin type A is commonly known by one of its trade names, Botox.
Heath received the injections at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center’s Spasticity Clinic, which specializes in the diagnosis and treatment of upper-limb movement disorders, especially the excessive muscle tightness, or spasticity, experienced by many stroke survivors.
“Vincent had a very tight fist and elbow, which is the usual posture after somebody has a stroke or brain injury,” said Dr. Allison Brashear, professor and chair of neurology at Wake Forest Baptist and head of the Spasticity Clinic. “So what we did was give him an appropriate dose of botulinum toxin to loosen his muscles.”
The shots allowed Heath to begin a regular exercise regimen that has slowly helped him regain partial use of his left arm and leg.
“Having a stroke, you have to be able to teach yourself all over again,” Heath said. “It’s like being a baby. You have to train your new cells to move your arm and walk and talk. And this is what I’m doing right now.”
In June 2010, Heath was enjoying a busy, satisfying life. He was the optical lab manager for Winston-Salem Industries for the Blind, supervising 80 employees. He’d put in a full day there, go home for a brief break, then head right back to work because he owned a janitorial service that had a contract to clean two state government buildings. Heath would work alongside the members of his cleaning crew.
He also had a small business designing embroidered shirts and doing screen printing. And there was his music, which he played at two Winston-Salem churches, St. John CME and Galilee Missionary Baptist.
Heath said he averaged about six hours of sleep per night in those days, but that didn’t bother him. At 6-foot-3 and 216 pounds, he was fit — he liked to play pickup basketball — and had never had any obvious medical problems.
But on the morning of June 15, Heath felt wobbly when he got out of bed. On his second attempt to stand, he fell to the floor and couldn’t get back up. He started sweating profusely.
“I remember the carpet was soaking wet,” he said. “They told me later that I had two blood clots in the right side of my brain with no place to go, which made my (blood) pressure rise, which is what caused me to sweat so much.”
Heath woke up in the hospital. He remained hospitalized for nine weeks, receiving medications to break up the clots and starting rehabilitation. He did not require surgery.
Later, a friend saw a TV advertisement for the Botox trial at Wake Forest Baptist and told Heath about it. He enrolled and began to receive injections in January 2011, continuing them for a year while participating in a rigorous, three-times-a-week post-stroke exercise program at a local YMCA.
“Vincent has been aggressive in physical and occupational therapy, and he has improved a lot,” Brashear said.
Heath has learned to use his right hand to “play” the notes on the neck of the bass shown on his iPad via the Garage Band program and another app. He can uncurl his left hand enough to hold the neck of a bass guitar, but not yet pluck it. Three years after the stroke that changed his life, Heath is patient.
“I’m just glad to be alive,” he said.