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Milliken stroke victim Rhonda Spreng battles on, inches her way back

November 12, 2018


Terry Frei



Rhonda Spreng sits at her table while her dog, Rowdy, wanders by at the Spreng home in Milliken. (Photos by Joshua Polson)

Wayne Spreng sometimes second-guesses himself for what he did on April 19, 2015.

He called 911.

He thinks of his wife, Rhonda Spreng, since that day often crying out in pain in the middle of the night.

He recalls her subsequent, since shaken, reliance on pain-killers, including Gabapentin and Tramadol.

He remembers the overnight muscle spasticity that left her muscles contracted and limbs essentially tied tightly.

He was saddened by a prideful woman’s loss of independence.

“If I knew the amount of pain and suffering she’d go through, I don’t know that I did the right thing by calling 911,” Spreng told me in his Milliken dining room last week. “I just don’t know.”

On that day 43 months ago, Rhonda suffered a ruptured aneurysm in the thalamus, or base area of the brain, and a stroke.

This past week, she was sitting a few feet away in her wheelchair edged up to the table, when her husband said that about calling 911.

She understood what he meant and she wasn’t offended.

“I feel like I was too stubborn to die,” Rhonda said.”That would have been easier. But it takes that level of tenacity to recover. Survival of the ruptured aneurysm is slim to none. And then it was the subsequent hemorrhagic stroke due to the aneurysm.”

You might have noticed. Rhonda hasn’t just fought what happened to her. She also has studied it.

“That’s kind of like blowing out the whole switchboard for your brain,” she said.

Rhonda and Wayne, both 58, have lived at their home outside Milliken since 2000. They are the former owners of Johnstown Feed and Seed and have owned Triad Tooling in Westminster for eight years.

Their world turned upside down three years ago.

By now, Rhonda estimates she is roughly 30 percent recovered physically. Her left side remains paralyzed and her left arm needs coaxing and guiding with the other arm to do much. But that’s considerable progress for the woman who in early 2015 seemed to have cheated death.

Part of her subsequent battles have involved negotiating through the health care coverage labyrinth, and now she does her rehabilitation work at home. Understandably, because of her progress, she has become a fan of home-based rehabilitation treatment. She has a hyperbaric oxygen therapy chamber set up in her living room and also works with several devices from Flint Rehab, a company founded by Nizan Friedman and Daniel Zondervan and based in Irvine, Calif.


Rhonda Spreng gets help from her husband, Wayne, to put on her MusicGlove device. The device helps the muscles damaged since her stroke. 

She has a tablet-type “FitMi” device loaded with rehabilitation games and connected to two puck-like mouse devices to be squeezed with her hands or even stepped on with her feet for responses; plus a MusicGlove accessory that plugs into the tablet, goes on her left hand and leads her through hand exercises. And she also exercises using a FlintFit stroke recovery program, laid out in a 4-disc set of DVDs of arm, core, hand and leg exercises.

And it all stems from that day in April 2015.

“We had quite a few animals then and I was out working in the barn,” Rhonda said. “I noticed that the pitchfork just spun in my hand and I couldn’t control it. I started feeling like I had something in the bottom of my foot. I thought maybe I had a rock or something in my boot. I started heading out of the barn to look in the boot and I told myself things were not feeling good.

“I started to come into the house and Wayne met me. He thought I had been kicked by one of the horses.”

In the house, she sat down. She thought maybe all she needed was water and a brief rest.

Wayne gave her a bottle of water, but quickly knew it was more than that. Much more than that.

He made that call to 911.


 Rhonda Spreng uses her FitMi game-like device to help build muscle in her left hand while at her home in Milliken.

“Luckily enough, there was an ambulance getting fuel a mile and a quarter from here at the gas station,” he recalled. “They came right here. They said, ‘Yes, it looks like you’re having a stroke.'”

Wayne said she was at the Medical Center of the Rockies in Loveland for a day and a half, then was moved to North Colorado Medical Center in Greeley for about a week. Next, it was on to Northern Colorado Rehabilitation Hospital in Johnstown until early June. Then she went home but underwent periodic outpatient therapy at several facilities. Wayne spent most of his time at home or at treatment with her.

“I basically went to work whenever I was needed, for an hour or two, for a year,” he said.

The company, with about 30 employees, manufactures and distributes tools for computer numeric control machines. As it struggled, Wayne said, Rhonda also wasn’t making much progress in the outpatient rehabilitation. And it was devastating.

“I was a fully active person taking care of horses,” she said. “I was working on a master’s program in accountancy. All these things are going on and then all of a sudden you become nothing but a vegetable and a couch potato. You can’t even go to the bathroom by yourself. You can’t bathe yourself. You can’t feed yourself.”

aSpreng4.jpg Rhonda Spreng sits in her living room next to a hyperbaric oxygen therapy chamber at her home in Milliken. Rhonda credits the chamber for part of her progress in her healing. 

Wayne hooked up with a Greeley neuro-chiropractor, Jason Campbell, and Rhonda began working with him, including with acupuncture and electrical stimulation. Her left side, especially her left arm,  strengthened, Rhonda said, and that was the beginning of improvement. Plus, after Wayne bought the hyperbaric oxygen treatment chamber for about $6,000, Rhonda started using that, and it has helped, too.

“Out of the blue, I found the Flint Rehab device,” Wayne said. “FitMi. So I bought it.”

The $299 pad and other new-wave stroke home recovery products have been elements in the noticeable improvement.

“You know how addictive games can get because of the challenge,” Rhonda said.

She noted as she makes progress, the pad takes her to the next level of exercises.

“I separate this into two things for recovery,” Rhonda said. “Can I maintain bodily functions like hold my body temperature, deal with barometric and altitude changes? And pain. What’s my pain level? That’s all one aspect. The other side is gaining mobility and function. Now, I’m starting to walk using the cane. I still struggle to get in and out of the shower, I still struggle to dress myself fully. Other than that I’m fairly self-sufficient. I believe I can probably get back to 60, 70 percent. I believe that.”

She’s now back at work, going to Triad Tooling with Wayne four days a week.

There, she types adeptly.

With one hand.