At 43 years old, with no risk factors and generally in good health, the last thing ultrasound technician Karen Stewart expected was to suffer a stroke.

“One night, I had a really bad migraine, so I went to the Gwinnett Medical Center Emergency Room because I knew there was something different,” Stewart said. “They did a CAT scan and said it was negative and that I could go home or come back in the morning for an MRI. It hurt so bad that I was just like, admit me and that way I’ll get (tested) faster in the morning. They came in early in the morning and did an ultrasound and saw I had a clotted carotid artery and rushed me to the MRI — that’s when I had the stroke. I lost the whole left side (of my body).”

That was 2008.

Now, 10 years later, Stewart walks, talks and acts like any other healthy, 53-year-old mother of two, something she largely credits to Glancy Rehabilitation Center, which celebrated its 30th anniversary Tuesday.

“It’s just so exciting to be celebrating 30 years of serving this community,” said Glancy Director Mona Lippitt. “The Joan Glancy Clinic opened in 1941 and then the Joan Glancy Memorial Hospital opened in ‘44. Then in 1988, the Glancy Rehabilitation Center opened its doors as a six- or seven-bed facility.”

The facility has grown significantly in the last 30 years, now offering 30 beds and serving more than 650 patients annually, Lippitt said.

“When I first started here 25 years ago, a patient’s average length of stay was one and a half to two months,” she said. “The average length of stay today is 14 days. Our patients come to us pretty acute and rehab quickly; in order to come to inpatient rehab, the patient has to participate in three hours of therapy a day, and we have therapy seven days a week.”

That intensity of rehab, however, is what makes all the difference in a patient’s recovery, as well as the technology Glancy uses, said Dr. Sunil Bhole, who helped open the rehabilitation center in 1988.

“We just acquired an exoskeleton, which is the latest robotic technology that we’ll be using for our spinal injury (patients) or our brain injury and stroke population,” Bhole said. “We also have state-of-the-art equipment in the gym and other rehabilitation technology, but a lot of rehabilitation is about that one-on-one — the personnel and the staff and the expertise.”

Many staff members have been with the rehabilitation center for 20 to 25 years, Bhole said, something Stewart said made her choose Glancy.

“The people are so sweet; it’s like a community,” she said. “I remember when I worked (at Glancy) — from 1995 to 2000, I actually worked as an ultrasound tech down the street but would come up here and scan patients — I was just amazed at all the people that were from here who worked here. It just felt like a sweet hospital, so when it came time to talk about my own rehab, my family was like, ‘We need to get you to Piedmont or Northside,’ and I said, ‘No, I’m going to Glancy; it’s right up the street and I know these people,’ so it was a no-brainer.”

In the decade since her recovery at Glancy, Stewart has stayed involved with the center, now volunteering with its peer visitor program, an opportunity for stroke patients to visit, one-on-one, with stroke survivors.

“The program is key,” Stewart said. “We go and learn how to talk to patients so that when a family comes in, they can talk to somebody that’s been through it. I have walked in and so many patients have looked at me and were like ‘what?’ when I say, ‘I was you in that bed 10 years ago.’ I can’t tell you how many people, who, when you get done visiting with them, say, ‘You’ve given me hope.’ That’s the best part — to have that hope.”

As part of the center’s 30th anniversary — and to give current and future patients that hope — Glancy unveiled a Hall of Resilience, which features three patients, one from each of the center’s three decades of existence.

The patients are Stewart, Floyd Perala and Bill Barry.

For more information about Glancy and its services, visit gwinnettmedicalcenter.org/services/rehabilitation/glancy-rehabilitation-center.

Crime Reporter

Isabel is a crime and health reporter for the Gwinnett Daily Post. She graduated from Emory University in 2016 with a B.A. in international studies. She is originally from the Boston area.