Randall Gregory received a 2012 Shire Brave Award for Caregiving.
Salem News - July 8, 2008
Golf event in Middleton to benefit paralyzed woman
By Paul Leighton Staff writer
BEVERLY — Nicole Gregory can breathe without a ventilator at night. She has slight movement in her right arm.
Nearly four years after suffering a rare spinal stroke
that left her paralyzed, those are the signs of progress for the
31-year-old MacArthur Road woman.
"She's doing well," said her husband, Randy. "She's progressing slowly from physical therapy."
Her family and friends would like to see that progress
continue, which is why they are hosting the fourth annual Nicole
Gregory Charitable Golf Classic on Monday at the Ferncroft Country Club
They're hoping to raise money to buy a $7,000 piece of
equipment that will allow Nicole to exercise her arms. The device
attaches to the electrical stimulation cycle she has been using to
strengthen her legs.
"The bike helps to hopefully get leg movement back and
it keeps her heart rate going," Randy Gregory said. "One of her arms
has some movement, and our hope is to get it to move a little bit so
she'll be able to use her hand control."
Nicole, a registered dietitian who grew up on Long
Island, N.Y., suffered the stroke in November 2004 and spent nine
months in hospitals and a rehabilitation center in Atlanta. She and her
husband, who spent the first 10 years of his life in Beverly, then
moved to MacArthur Road.
"The community has been great to us," Randy said.
If you go:
What: 2008 Nicole Gregory Charitable Golf Classic
When: Monday, July 14, 7:30 a.m. start
Where: Ferncroft Country Club, Middleton
Cost: $185 per golfer, includes breakfast, golf and lunch; cost for lunch only is $30
Recovery from stroke a daily struggle for Beverly woman By Marc Fortier, Staff Writer
Eighteen months ago, a stroke left Nicole Gregory paralyzed from the neck down. She was 28 years old, a newlywed. Today, her recovery is an arduous process marked by uplifting signs of progress and occasional setbacks.
Nicole can now breathe on her own for short periods of time. She can sit upright and move her arm about an inch if she tries hard enough. It’s further than some doctors expected her to come. “It’s such slow progress,” Nicole said. “I try to stay positive.” But the Beverly woman expected more by now. Nicole wants to be able to breathe without a respirator, feed herself -– and maybe one day walk again.
Two weeks ago, Nicole and her husband, Randy, drove to Boston Medical Center hoping doctors would tell them Nicole would soon be able to breathe on her own. But tests revealed Nicole’s diaphragm – still gripped by paralysis – is not working properly. The news might have crushed some people; Randy and Nicole took it for what it was – a setback. “It does affect you,” said Randy, a native of Georgetown. “But you learn – at least I have – how to deal with things. When it first happens, it’s all shock. Now, it bothers you, but there’s nothing you can do about it.”
After returning home from Boston, Randy turned on the TV. A local sports show was replaying an old interview with Patriots quarterback, Tom Brady. Asked if he was disappointed that he would be relegated to backup duty, Brady answered, “You can only do what you can do. I have to worry about what I can control.” That resonated with Randy, a big sports fan. If Tom Brady can go from sixth-round draft pick and backup quarterback to three-time Super Bowl winner, who’s to say Nicole won’t breathe on her own someday – or perhaps even walk again? “For me it rang true,” Randy said. “All you can do is what you can handle. Go to therapy and deal with the situation.” He paused a moment, glancing over at his wife. “She thinks I’m a cheeseball for saying it sometimes.”
Nicole could have given up after hearing the recent bad news or taken the self-pity route. Instead, she went back to work. Three times a week, she spends an hour and a half doing outpatient therapy at Elite Physical Therapy in Danvers. “It’s been great getting out of the house”, she said, her voice still dry and raspy from using the respirator.
At a recent session, two physical therapists led her through a series of stretching, neck strengthening and weight-bearing exercises. As Nicole worked out, her dog, Suzie, a 5-year old white Maltese, scampered around the exercise room, yapping at anyone who moved. The dog actually belongs to Randy’s father, Bob, but he has given it to Nicole. “She’s been a huge help, a source of comfort,” Randy said.
Nicole can go up to two hours without her respirator – up from 10 minutes last fall. Her therapists also say her arm movement has improved tremendously. She bought an electrical stimulation bike – a piece of equipment that Christopher Reeve considered critical to his success. She is also learning to operate her wheelchair with a joystick, using her hand instead of a sip-and-puff mechanism operated with her mouth. “Even with the strength in her neck, I’ve noticed a difference,” said Jacqui Moynihan, one of Nicole’s home health nurses. “People who haven’t seen her in a while notice the gains,” Randy said.
Nicole is also becoming more independent. Randy, who was out of work for most of the first year after Nicole’s stroke, is back to his job as a financial adviser. “It’s hard sometimes,” Nicole said, but she has two home health care nurses and a nursing student who stay with her.
Randy and Nicole were also able to purchase a van to get around more easily. “It’s opened up a whole new world for us,” Randy said. Not Your Average Joe’s in Beverly is their favorite place to go for meals, and they often visit friends in the area. Over Easter, they visited Nicole’s parents on Long Island. They plan to take some day trips to New Hampshire and Maine this summer.
Surgery still an option
Nicole recently met an elderly woman who lives in Peabody and suffered a similar spinal stroke. After the stroke, the woman couldn’t move at all, but now she is moving her arms and can stand. “This woman is 70-something, and she continues to get things back,” Randy said.
Surgery could be an option. An experimental procedure performed at the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio would implant leads in her diaphragm to help her breathe. Reeve underwent the same procedure. Nicole would prefer not to undergo surgery unless there is no other option, because ti doesn’t always work. Also, the surgery is expensive and wouldn’t be covered by insurance. Randy is organizing a golf tournament on July 17 at the Beverly Golf and Tennis club to raise money in case the surgery is necessary.
“It’s been a tough road,” Randy said. “We’re still fighting. We’ve come a long way. It’s been slow progress, but we’re definitely seeing improvements. We just hope that with every year that passes, we’ll see continued success.”
Nikki & Randy off to a friend's wedding.
Georgetown Record – Local News
Spinal stroke leaves couple struggling By Theresa DeFranzo/ Correspondent Thursday, November 3, 2005
Nicole and Randy Gregory need your help.
On Nov. 7, 2004, Nicole, while shopping with her girlfriends, began not feeling well. Numbness began to develop in her arm, and she quickly realized that something was wrong. Randy was called to pick her up. He later drove her to the local emergency department after she lost feeling in her left arm and leg. Before the day's end, Nicole was completely paralyzed below her neck and was placed on a ventilator at St. Elizabeth's Medical Center. Nicole had suffered a spinal stroke, said her husband Randy, a 1994 graduate of Georgetown High School. Now, supporters are holding a dinner dance fund-raiser at the Danversport Yacht Club next week to raise money that will help defray the costs of care for 29-year-old Nicole. Since last November and until just a few weeks ago, Randy Gregory has been on a leave of absence from his job to stay home with his wife, who remains on a ventilator. His is a financial planner who works for New England Financial in Waltham. The irony of his job was not lost on Randy, who said he would spend hours of his time talking with clients convincing them to plan ahead for the unexpected, either with savings or insurance. "I protect people against these things," he said. "I advocate for people. I never thought this would happen to us." It's been the support of family, friends and the community that have gotten them through this difficult time, Randy said. Friends and relatives have even folded more than 1,000 paper cranes that hung in her hospital rooms - Japanese folklore says that if you fold 1,000 paper cranes you will be blessed with good health, a custom popularized in the 1977 book "Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes," about a young Hiroshima survivor's battle with leukemia. Supporters have also helped start a Web site, www.nicolegregory.com, on which Nicole's mother, Michele DePalo, posts updates on Nicole's progress. Despite all the support, the Gregorys need to continue with fund-raising because at some point insurance money will run out - and they want to make sure Nicole can still receive all the care she may still need. Her prognosis is unknown, he said, because spinal strokes are extremely rare in young people, so her doctors don't know what to expect. However, she has made some promising improvements. Just six weeks ago she could be off her ventilator for 10 minutes. Now, sometimes she is off it for up to an hour, Randy Gregory said. Money raised from next week's fund-raiser would, in part, help to pay for a van - a Dodge Caravan that is converted to become handicapped accessible - other equipment and "therapy down the line," said Randy. A spring golf tournament fund-raiser brought in $16,000 for Nicole's trust, Randy said, noting that money helped allow Nicole to go to the Shepherd Center in Atlanta, a renowned spinal treatment facility. "That was the biggest blessing," Randy Gregory said. Nicole made improvements and they were finally able to return home - they now live with Randy's father in Beverly - and resume as normal a life as possible, outside of hospitals. "For a long time, we weren't sure how we would progress," Randy Gregory said. "We are happy, but we are not satisfied. At least we are living at home again. I'm back to work. Friends are coming over again." Nicole will be at next week's fund-raiser. It's an evening she said she's looking forward to. "I'd like to see the people who support me and thank them," she said.
How to help:
A dinner-dance fund-raiser for Nicole Gregory will take place next Friday, Nov. 11 from 6:30 p.m. to 11:30 p.m. at the Danversport Yacht Club at 161 Elliot St. in Danvers. Admission is $50 and includes a full sit-down dinner and entertainment by a blues band. The band appears courtesy of the Georgetown Kiwanis. For tickets or to donate a raffle or auction item, call 978-282-5575. For more information, visit www.nicolegregory.com. While you can purchase tickets the night of the event, Randy Gregory asks that you please buy them in advance if possible.
August 23, 2005
Published in The Salem News, The Eagle Tribune and related newspapers BEVERLY
Nicole Gregory clearly remembers the last day she spent on her own two feet. Like many young newlyweds, Nicole and her husband, Randy, were planning their future together | they had good jobs, they were looking to buy a home, and they were thinking about having kids. But the events of last Nov. 7 put those plans on hold. On that day, their lives changed forever when Nicole suffered a rare spinal stroke that left her paralyzed from the neck down. "We had everything going for us," Randy said. "We just got thrown a curveball. You're living normal one day, and everything's messed up the next."
It was a sunny Sunday afternoon, and Nicole and Randy were spending the day with friends… Randy watching the Patriots game on TV with the guys and Nicole and her girlfriends shopping for dresses for an upcoming wedding. Nicole, a registered dietitian, felt a little out of sorts all weekend. She and Randy had worked out at the gym that morning, and she assumed she was fine. But while out shopping with her friends, she began to feel a pain in her left arm. Being a healthy 28-year-old, she thought nothing of it. After all, who doesn't feel a twinge or a pain somewhere in their body every day? Then when she was eating lunch with her friends in Danvers, the pain began to worsen and spread to her chest. Now it was definitely more than a twinge. "I thought it was a heart attack," Nicole said. She went to her car to rest. By the time her friends came to check on her, her whole left side was weak. "I could feel pinpricks, but I couldn't move my left side," she said.
At that point, Nicole's friends called Randy. He rushed to pick her up, thinking his wife had maybe dislocated her shoulder or was having an anxiety attack. But as they drove home, it was clear that it was more than that. By the time they reached their driveway in Newton, she couldn't get out of the car. He rushed her to nearby Caritas St. Elizabeth's Hospital. Nicole was taken into the emergency room using a wheelchair because she was unable to stand. At that point, Randy realized this was serious and began to think that maybe she had a stroke. "I'm thinking she can't be having a stroke, she's 28," he said.
Doctors struggled to identify what was wrong with her. When she was in the MRI machine, she stopped breathing. "We weren't sure if she was going to live or die," Randy said. The doctors told Randy something was attacking her body, but they didn't know what. Everything was coming back negative. As all of this was happening, Randy stayed in constant contact via phone with his in-laws in Long Island. "The last phone call was, 'You'd better get here,'" Nicole's mother, Michele DePalo, said.
Nicole lived, but she was paralyzed from the neck down, unable to breathe without a respirator. It was three or four days before the doctors had a handle on what was wrong with her. They told Nicole she had suffered a spinal stroke, an extremely rare condition that usually affects the elderly. They had no idea why it happened, and they still don't. "There was no trauma there," Randy said. "I've gone through many theories. We just don't know." Dr. Misha Pless, a neurologist at Beverly Hospital, said such an injury is "very rare," especially in someone Nicole's age. Only once has he seen a case like it in someone so young.
Nicole was at St. Elizabeth's for 2 1/2 weeks before being released to Spaulding Rehabilitation in Boston. She spent six months there before transferring to the Shepherd Center in Atlanta, the renowned spinal treatment center where Boston University hockey player Travis Roy was once a patient. It was there that Nicole and Randy learned how to "move forward, instead of just saying alive," as Randy put it. Nicole learned about her condition, and Randy learned how to care for his wife. "Randy kept me alive," Nicole said, her voice raspy due to the tracheotomy tube in her throat. "He's phenomenal. I definitely got through this because of him." Randy returned the compliment, saying his wife has been incredibly strong throughout her ordeal. "I don't think anyone could deal with this better than she's dealt with it," he said. "A lot of people would be depressed."
After a month at the Shepherd Center, Nicole and Randy were ready to come home. Their Newton apartment was on an upper floor, so they couldn't live there. They decided to live with Randy's father, Bob Gregory, on MacArthur Road in Beverly. Nicole's mother wanted them to come stay with them on Long Island, but Nicole and Randy wanted to stay in Massachusetts. "My job is here," Randy, a Georgetown native, said. "We've established a life here. We wanted to be able to get back to our life."
Bob Gregory moved upstairs and gave his son and daughter-in-law his bedroom, knocking out a wall and building a handicapped ramp so Nicole could get around in her wheelchair. Nicole is still unable to move her arms and legs or breathe on her own. But she is starting to get feeling back in her right arm. Doctors hope she will be able to get enough motion back to operate a wheelchair with her arm instead of the tube she currently has to breathe through.
Doctors still aren't sure what kind of mobility Nicole will get back. She could walk again, or she might remain a quadriplegic. "It's totally unknown," said Susan Sheehy, a registered nurse and the Shepherd Center's liaison for the Northeast region. "Every spinal cord patient is different, and there's no way to predict. People who we thought would never get better get better, and people who we thought would didn't."
Nicole has sensation throughout her body, which is a positive sign. She can shrug her shoulders, move her right hand and wrist and feel pain in certain extremities. If she doesn't recover, she could have surgery to implant pacemaker-like devices under her diaphragm that would enable her to breathe without a respirator. And there is always the promise of stem cell research.
Nicole, now 29, is still self-conscious about being in a wheelchair. Until last week, she wouldn't let her mom take her photograph. But aside from the wheelchair and the breathing tube coming from her throat, she looks much the same as she did in her engagement photograph taken two years ago. "She's still a beautiful woman," Randy said, eliciting a smile from his wife.
Randy has been on leave from his job as a financial adviser since November. He plans to return to work next month. He has been training a nurse to work with his wife during the day, but he knows it won't be the same. "It is going to be hard," Randy said. At least at first, he is going to try to work from home a couple of days a week.
Where they used to look to the future, Randy and Nicole now take life one day at a time. For now, that's all they can do. "If something like this happens, you've just got to deal with it," Randy said, matter-of-factly. "Try to live life as normally as you can."
October 11, 2005 – Published in The Salem News, The Eagle Tribune and related newspapers BEVERLY
After 11 months of spending nearly every waking hour together, Nicole and Randy Gregory were prepared for Randy's first day back at work to be an emotional, tear-stained affair. Imagine Randy's surprise when he called home from work last Monday, and no one bothered to pick up the phone. "I guess I wasn't missed," Randy said. "I didn't even notice (he was gone)," Nicole said. "I was so busy during the day
The fact that Nicole barely noticed her husband's absence speaks volumes about how well she is progressing as she fights to recover from a spinal stroke last November that left her paralyzed from the neck down. She has a long way to go, but she has made huge strides in the past month. She has a new motorized wheelchair that allows her to move freely around her MacArthur Road home, though it took her a little while to get the hang of it. "You can see the dents in the walls," she said.
Nicole, 29, is starting to get feeling back in both of her hands and forearms, which could eventually allow her to feed herself and operate her wheelchair with her hand instead of her mouth. And she has started to feel muscles flicker in her leg. She can breathe off her respirator for 30 minutes at a time, up from just 10 minutes a month ago. And where her right shoulder used to visibly rise higher than the left one, it has become less tense and is beginning to drop down.
"She is making some steady gains, and she's got such an unbelievable attitude that she is going to continue to just progress and continue to make these strides," said Joanne Mercaldi, Nicole's occupational therapist. "We are getting some slight motion back in various muscle groups. That makes us optimistic that we're going to continue to make some progress."
Despite all of these positive signs, Nicole remains even-keeled. Her doctors don't know what kind of mobility she will get back, and she understands it is going to be a long road. "I don't get too excited about things," she said. "We're moving forward."
>From the day Nicole suffered her stroke until last Monday, Randy hadn't been back to work at his job as a financial adviser. He devoted himself to caring for his wife. But after months of planning, he left Nicole with her parents and her nurse and went back to the office in Waltham. He plans to work in the office three days a week and at home or on the road the other two days. "It's tough trying to start over with clients," Randy said. "But this has given me a new perspective on the importance of what I do and having a plan going forward."
Back to work
Randy, a Georgetown native, had originally planned to return to work on Sept. 1, but he said there is no way he could have gone back a month ago. "It took so long to get everything set up – good nursing, physical therapists," he said. "I wanted to make sure she was going to be all right." But now, with nurses coming to the house five days a week and physical and occupational therapists three times a week, he felt comfortable leaving Nicole. His co-workers are happy to have Randy back. "Everyone asks about Nicole," he said. "They're happy to hear how she's progressing. They want to meet her."
While Randy is at work, Nicole keeps busy doing her physical therapy and other assorted exercises. She uses something called a "tilt table," which resembles a stretcher except that it props upright so that she can do weight-bearing exercises. She also uses a device with wheels on the bottom called "the skateboard," which she tries to move around on a table top with her arm. "It's very hard," she said. "That's what I'm doing all day. "Even when she's not doing her exercises, she is constantly trying to move her hands.
Nicole's family and friends are holding a fundraiser next month to raise money for an electrical stimulation bike. The $15,000 machine resembles an exercise bike but uses electrical impulses to make the user's muscles peddle the bike. This promotes muscle growth and gives a good cardiovascular workout.
Nicole still hasn't purchased a wheelchair van but is hoping to do so once she has the money. Nicole and Randy said the response they have received from local residents has been incredible. Home Depot in Danvers donated wood for a deck so Nicole can sit outside. The founder of Home Depot is a big supporter of the Shepherd Center in Atlanta, the spinal treatment center where Nicole spent a month earlier this year. On Aug. 23, the same day that a story about Nicole ran in The Salem News, two local people posted messages on Nicole's website offering to run errands, do laundry or even clean the house. One man sent them $7, because that was all he could spare. "That was the best donation we ever got," Nicole said. "It shows you how heartfelt people are," Randy said.
Fundraiser for Nicole Gregory
A dinner dance fundraiser to benefit Nicole Gregory will be held on Friday, Nov. 11, from 6:30 to 11:30 p.m. at the Danversport Yacht Club. Tickets are $50 and will help cover the cost of Nicole's rehabilitation, need for personal care, home equipment and more. To purchase tickets or to donate an auction or raffle item, call (978) 282-5575. To learn more about Nicole's story, go to her Web site at www.nicolegregory.com.
Staff writer Marc Fortier can be reached at (978) 338-2664 or by e-mail at email@example.com.