After suffering a major stroke in addition to several other complex medical issues, Dale Earhardt is expected to make a significant recovery thanks to the team at Carolinas Rehabilitation.

News | 5 years ago

Mother of TV Personality, Ainsley Earhardt, Recovers After Severe Stroke

Not everyone gets a second chance at life. But after suffering a severe stroke in February 2018, Dale Earhardt, mother of TV personality Ainsley Earhardt, is getting just that thanks to the intensive care of Vishwa Raj, MD, medical director of Carolinas Rehabilitation, and his team.

Millions of Americans start their weekday mornings off by watching TV personality Ainsley Earhardt on the Fox News television program, Fox & Friends. But when the segment ends and the cameras shut down each Friday, Ainsley has made it part of her regular routine to fly from her home in New York City to Charlotte on the weekends to visit her mother, Dale Earhardt, at Atrium Health’s Carolinas Rehabilitation.

On February 1, 2018, Ainsley’s father, Wayne Earhardt, came home to find Dale unresponsive on the ground, lodged between the nightstand of their bedroom and the bed. Checking her vitals, Wayne raced her to the hospital in their hometown of Columbia, SC, after suspecting that she had suffered a severe stroke.

A unique case

Upon first finding Dale on the ground of their bedroom, Wayne had a number of reasons as to what was wrong racing through his mind.

At first, he thought her condition was related to ketoacidosis – a serious diabetic complication that occurs when the body produces excess blood acids (ketones) – which had put Dale in the hospital several times over the years due to her severe diabetic condition. But after checking her glucose levels, Wayne was reassured that her blood sugar wasn’t the cause.

Second, he thought Dale’s situation may be related to her kidney disease. Because of Dale’s diabetes and irregular blood pressure, she developed kidney failure with her kidneys only working at 16 percent. Consequently, Dale has been on the kidney transplant list for three years.

But remembering a flier he saw from the American Heart Association about the symptoms of strokes, Wayne asked Dale to smile for him, to say a nursey rhyme and a series of other tests before he assumed that she had indeed suffered a stroke.

A team effort

Following the removal of the blood clot in early February, Dale was soon transferred to Charlotte for rehabilitation services under the care of Vishwa Raj, MD, medical director of Carolinas Rehabilitation.

At Carolinas Rehabilitation, Dale would have access to the highest level of care available for stroke patients in the region; something she desperately needed as the stroke, coupled with her other medical conditions, made her a very high-risk patient.

"Dr. Raj accepted Dale, otherwise we were making funeral arrangements," says Wayne. "When we first brought her to Carolinas Rehabilitation she couldn’t breathe on her own, she couldn’t talk, couldn’t swallow, couldn’t eat. Her whole right side was paralyzed."

"We really didn’t feel like she was going to make a full recovery, and we just gave it to God," says Ainsley.

Despite Dale’s dire condition, this was a case that Dr. Raj and his team were willing to take on. But due to the severity of Dale’s health status, Dr. Raj and his rehabilitation team had to work closely with other medical teams at Atrium Health to monitor her other health problems.

"Part of the reason why she’s done extremely well is because we’ve been able to manage the majority of her medical issues, which have been extremely complex," says Dr. Raj. "We’ve used all of the resources that we have to provide comprehensive rehabilitation care. And that’s something you don’t see very often in the community, but it’s only because we’re a unified organization that we’re able to utilize the appropriate people at the appropriate time for the best possible outcome."

Signs of progress

Since February, Dale has undergone a remarkable transformation. Upon first beginning treatment at Carolinas Rehabilitation, Dr. Raj answered some tough questions by telling the Earhardt family that it’s very rare and unlikely for someone who is still paralyzed on either side of the body at the stage Dale was at to regain function and mobility. But the Earhardt family never gave up on Dale, pushing and encouraging her to complete the course of rehabilitation therapy.

"Dr. Raj told us, ‘If it [mobility] happens, it’s gonna happen fast,’ and it did," recalls Ainsley.

"It’s kind of like the light bulb went off with our mom. Everybody kept telling her, ‘If you want to go home, you’ve got to put in the work,’ and then one day, she just starting doing it," says Dale’s oldest daughter, Elise Earhardt.

Through her hard work and dedication under the care of the rehabilitation team, Dale has effectively regained muscle function on her right side, so she is now able to feed herself, walk, put on makeup, brush her own hair and perform other simple routines. Not only have her motor functions improved, but her sense of speech has additionally recovered to the point where she can speak in sentences and show off her humorous personality.

"From here, I see her continuing to improve, to become independent," says Dr. Raj. "We still have about two years to see where she finally lands in terms of her overall neurological recovery, but when we look at where she started and how much progress she's made in less than six months, I anticipate that she's going to have a significant recovery."

Now back at home in Columbia, SC, Dale can expect to live a normal life – almost to the point of where it was before her stroke – with the love and support of her family and friends.

"Not everybody gets a second chance," says Dr. Raj. "This was one of the unique situations where we were able to give a family a second chance with their loved one, and I think that’s a pretty special thing."

 After suffering a major stroke in addition to several other complex medical issues, Dale Earhardt is expected to make a significant recovery thanks to the team at Carolinas Rehabilitation.