Ascellus Blog

‘Kelly’s’ Story: True Life Account of an Injured Worker’s Recovery

November 8, 2017

Stroke Brain

She was a high-powered, highly respected workers’ compensation executive when she suddenly found herself unable to speak a complete sentence. She couldn’t use eating utensils properly. The painstaking, carefully crafted documentation she had written turned out to be no more than lines on a page. She was terrified.

  • Do you have stories of injured workers’ successful recoveries?
  • What treatment programs do you use to help similarly injured workers?
  • Have you seen injured workers able to overcome significant psychosocial barriers?

Eventually, she would find her way back to self-sufficiency — and productivity. But it would take perseverance and intestinal fortitude that would challenge her in ways she could not have imagined. It would bring up her innermost fears and force her to confront demons that had festered since childhood. Things are not perfect and she still struggles daily. But she did it.

This is a story about how a medical issue can derail a person’s life. More importantly, it’s a story about what it feels like to be an injured worker shaken to the core and then go through the process to regain a sense of normalcy.

Her story

Kelly (not her real name) had what she considered an ideal life. Extroverted and energetic, she thrived on the frenetic pace she had created for herself as she worked her way up the corporate ladder in the industry she loved.

She traveled extensively; most weeks leaving on a Sunday and not returning home until Friday night. She made friends with people throughout the country, and the globe. Her work was her life and she cherished every minute of it.

Part of what Kelly liked about her work was that she was good at it; really good. That was something that had eluded her for years.

Kelly married at 16 to escape a horrifically abusive home life. In addition to the physical beatings she endured at the hands of her father, she had also grown up being told she was nothing, would never amount to anything.

She gave birth to the first of her two children at 17. The marriage would not last. But Kelly moved on. “Headstrong,” is how she describes herself.

As the years went by, Kelly worked diligently to make a better life for herself and her children. Eventually, she found herself in the workers’ compensation field. She knew she had found her calling.

With her children grown, Kelly embraced her new life and was handsomely rewarded for it. But the quarter- to half-million dollars she earned annually was not the real motivator. She had come into her own. Had amounted to much more than ‘nothing,’ and reveled in her accomplishments. Then came the afternoon she’ll never forget.

The Stroke

Meeting with a company employee to reprimand him, she was struck with pain she had never experienced. “I had arm pain, and neck pain,” she said. “I didn’t recognize anyone except the person I was meeting with. I was really, really confused. I didn’t know what was happening.”

She would later learn she had suffered a stroke, something she would not believe for quite some time. That day, she returned to her hotel room, laid down for a bit and went out to dinner with a client.

“I was cutting a piece of lamb and all of a sudden the knife flew out of my hand. I realized I couldn’t use my arm.”

On her doctor’s advice to go to an ER ASAP, she eventually drove herself to a hospital, where she had another TIA. Still, she thought she’d be OK. But she wasn’t.

As the days and weeks went by, she found herself making more and more mistakes, though she often didn’t know it at the time. “I didn’t realize that they were monitoring everything I did,” she said. “When I went back and looked at the paperwork I was documenting while reprimanding the rep, I saw I had just made lines across the paper. To me, my brain was working. Evidently, it was not.”

She ignored the advice to take 6 months off work and instead tried to hide her symptoms. “I’d leave jobs before anyone really found out. I never wanted anyone in my field to know I was less than I am.”

It was when she was passed over for a major promotion to which she was entitled that she began to understand the magnitude of what was happening to her.

“I was very angry after the stroke. Memory loss makes you angry,” she said. “I’d go to the grocery store for lettuce but couldn’t think of the word. I was angry at myself and others.”

But growing up in her abusive household did not prepare Kelly to deal with the feelings she was having. “I’m from Kentucky. If we complained of pain we were beaten,” she said. “After the stroke I didn’t know how to deal with myself. I’d get nervous. It’s really hard to explain how your whole personality changes.”

The Way Back

Working in the workers’ compensation field for as long as she did had exposed Kelly to a variety of strategies to help injured workers, including cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT).  One of the most important lessons she had learned through CBT was to press on, even when it hurts.

“I was getting physical therapy for drop foot, and after 15 minutes the therapist said ‘OK, you’re done.’ I said, ‘if I do 30 minutes, would it cause the drop foot to be worse?’ He said ‘no.’ So I continued,” she explained. “CBT taught me you can always push yourself further.”

Ultimately, Kelly reconnected with a friend who specialized in CBT and became something of a mentor, helping her recover further. “He accepted me for who I was. He understood my disadvantages.”

More than anything, Kelly yearned to return to some semblance of work. So she started putting in some free time with her mentor.

“He let me still be creative in the industry and still do the creative things I like to do for the industry,” she said. “I worked there without pay whenever I could, did whatever I could just to be part of the industry.”

Working in close contact with the CBT specialist and practicing many of its techniques has helped Kelly be productive and feel self-confident again. As many injured workers with severe injuries have explained, the recovery is continuous and takes commitment and determination.

“I still use words that aren’t really words in sentences; I still sound angry when I’m actually passionate,” she said. “[My mentor] looks over me. I’m terrified if I’m in a meeting and he’s not there to back me up, to pull me out of this because that’s what he does for me.”

Kelly says she still has pain daily, but takes few of the opioids prescribed for her. “Through CBT I’ve learned that opioids covers pain, it doesn’t take it away. You have to learn to deal with it,” she said. “By doing other things with your mind you learn to control the pain, rather than having it control you. You have to keep busy. That’s what I’ve learned through CBT. I will always be thankful for that.”


Kelly’s story is an actual first-hand account of a highly successful industry employee’s struggle following a tragic illness. While no real names have been included, all other details are factual. Kelly still battles daily to perform some of the most basic human functions. But by embracing the techniques of CBT, she has drastically reduced her medication intake, returned to function, and regained her self confidence.

We’d like to hear other stories of injured workers who have returned to function:

  • Do you have stories of injured workers’ successful recoveries?
  • What treatment programs do you use to help similarly injured workers?
  • Have you seen injured workers able to overcome significant psychosocial barriers?

Please share your thoughts with us.

Integrated Medical Case Solutions (Ascellus) is a national network of Health Providers in Psychology that delivers cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) for chronic pain, trauma and insomnia across the country for the workers’ compensation industry.

For additional information, contact us at, or Please join our LinkedIn group, COPE with Pain at .

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Ascellus bridges the gap between mental and physical health to accelerate recovery for our nation's workforce. By connecting the workers' compensation industry with our expert behavioral care and evidence-based treatments, we deliver high-quality outcomes, helping injured workers reemerge with increased strength, purpose and resilience in the workplace.