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The Long Road Back to Normal

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WC grad helps her former teacher and fellow graduate recover from a stroke.

As a veteran marathoner, Worthington Christian’s Lower School STEM teacher Stephanie (Larson) Custer, a 1991 WC alumna, is used to putting in the miles.

Although one of her recent runs was only two miles, it was a crucial step for Custer. A few weeks before the run, she was using a cane to get around after suffering a stroke last November.

“I am still a work in progress,” Custer said. “When I had my stroke, I couldn’t walk, and I could barely talk. I had to start from scratch, but I can walk now, talk better and I can feed myself. I can run two miles, but I am not 100 percent back to normal.”

“She’s getting back to where she wants to be,” said Carlie (Clark) Meyer (WC ’06), a neuro Occupational Therapist (OT) who has been part of the OhioHealth team helping rehabilitate Custer. “Those are the moments that make doing the job all worthwhile.”

Meyer believes stories like Custer’s underscore the importance of recognizing the signs of a stroke. The acronym BEFAST serves as a guideline to recognize when someone is having a stroke:

  • B: Balance. A sudden loss of balance or coordination.
  • E: Eyes. Sudden blurred, double or loss of vision.
  • F: Face. Drooping or numbness of the face.
  • A: Arm. Weakness or numbness of an arm or a leg on one side of the body.
  • S: Speech. Slurred speech, unable to speak or speech is difficult to understand.
  • T: Time: If a person experiences ANY of these symptoms, call 911 immediately.


According to the American Heart Association, in 2020, someone in the United States died of a stroke every 3 minutes 17 seconds. Several factors can lead to having a stroke, including obesity, diabetes, smoking, hypertension, drug use, genetic factors, and previous strokes.

However, the stroke came out of the blue in Custer’s case. On Nov. 5, 2023, she completed the grueling 26.2-mile New York City marathon. Five days later, the runner noticed something was very wrong.

“On the right side of my body, I couldn’t move my leg or arm, and I couldn’t talk,” she said. “I was showing the signs of a stroke, but then they would go away. I went to the hospital, and doctors ran CAT and MRI scans, and my brain looked fine. My symptoms went away; they gave me some medication and sent me home.”

What Custer was experiencing was a transient ischemic attack (TIA). TIA occurs when the blood supply to part of the brain is briefly interrupted. They last only minutes, and their symptoms mimic that of a stroke, but they soon disappear.

Two weeks later, Custer had the same symptoms, but this time, the numbness and lack of mobility didn’t go away. An MRI revealed she had suffered a stroke.

The teacher said hearing the word “stroke” was devastating.

“It’s really scary,” she said. “You just can’t believe this is happening to you. God gave me the best doctors, but they can’t tell me why I had a stroke.

“Even when we don’t know why things happen, we need to put our faith and trust in God because He knows why, and His plan for our life is perfect.”

When she first saw the name on the chart of patients she had to see that day, Meyer immediately Googled “Stephanie Custer” and realized the patient had been her fourth-grade teacher.

“She was always very athletic and may have run a summer basketball camp while I was there,” Meyer said. “She was very nice, but I got in trouble in her class for talking too much.”

“I didn’t really recognize her right away because she looks very different from when she was in fourth grade,” Custer said. “Another therapist said, ‘I think you know one of our other OT people— Carlie.’ I said, ‘I think she was a student in one of my fourth-grade classes.’ She may look different, but she’s still the same sweet Carlie. She’s been awesome to work with.”

Meyer said helping a former teacher recover some of her old skills was strange.

“We had a moment where I was teaching her something, and I said to her, ‘Now the student has become the teacher,’” she said.

Helping people get their life back is part of the job description for occupational therapists. Meyer stated The OT’s role is to help people stay as independent as possible.

“‘Occupations’ are anything that you want or need to do,” she said. “It could be as basic as brushing your teeth, throwing a baseball with your kid or driving a car.

“To be a good OT, it obviously takes someone who has empathy, compassion, and the ability to think outside the box.”

Meyer likes to be creative with her treatment plans. She had a patient who said her goal was to get back to playing pickleball. Since OhioHealth has no pickleball courts, she improvised a treatment that emulated the moves the person would need to compete in pickleball.

Another patient wanted to return to her job as a hairdresser, so Meyer found a cheap Halloween wig that allowed her to practice cutting and styling hair.

Meyer has learned to celebrate the tiny victories of progress.

“Often we work with patients who have Parkinson’s Disease or ALS, which just progressively get worse,” she said. “We want to help them keep their independence for as long as possible.

“I had someone sign her name for the first time in years. Those are the moments that make it all worthwhile.”

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