by Dennis Dalman
The last thing Teresa Rock remembered is being placed on a rescue toboggan and then vomiting and feeling a sense of embarrassment.
It had been such a wonderful day: downhill skiing with her boyfriend during a trip to Breckenridge, Colo. Bright blue sky above. Alpine sunshine. Swooshing down the snowy mountain side. And then, suddenly, a headache had to ruin it all.
Rock, 33, a single mother of three, had had migraine headaches before but nothing quite like this one, nothing so painful. She sat down on her skis on the slope and rubbed snow on the side of her head, hoping to ease the pain, her concerned boyfriend by her side, comforting her.
Then she tried to get up again and found she could not budge the left side of her body; it just wasn’t working; wasn’t working at all.
Panicking, her boyfriend called the ski patrol, and the rescue toboggan was quickly brought. The patrol brought her in the toboggan to the bottom of the mountain slope. By then, Rock had lost consciousness. She had quit breathing and was rushed to a small mountain-side clinic by ambulance.
It wasn’t a headache; it was an aneurysm, and Rock’s brain was badly bleeding inside, which caused the loss of consciousness and the subsequent coma. She was then airlifted to a Denver hospital.
Family members flew to Denver. Aware she did not want to be kept alive with no hope, they reluctantly made the awful decision to pull the respirator. But, amazingly, Rock began to breathe, and she slowly recovered a bit, enough to be sent to the St. Cloud Hospital about a month after the aneurysm.
That cruel bolt from the blue, an aneurysm occurred in 1991. It was the beginning of a long struggle for Rock to regain a semblance of health and to learn again how to function, having to try to relearn the most basic daily skills all over again.
Now, 25 years after the crisis, Rock’s struggle is the subject of a just-published book entitled Like a Rock, written by Mary A. Czech of St. Cloud as told by Rock, who lives in Sartell. The two women, long-time friends, spent 10 years, off and on, working on the book.
“Teresa’s story is a testament to the struggle of letting go in order to accept help,” the publisher’s blurb states. “It reveals how her past prepared her to access inner strengths and the will to persevere.”
An aneurysm is an excessive localized enlargement of an artery caused by a weakening of the arterial wall. If the artery bursts, it releases blood into the skull and causes a stroke. Czech’s aneurysm was caused by an arterial deformation in the brain, likely a genetic condition, a form of birth defect that she’d been unaware of.
Rock is still paralyzed on her left side and cannot move her left arm at all. She manages to be mobile with the help of a leg brace and cane, although she often suffers falls. Rock’s mother, who died at 51, had a brain tumor that left her paralyzed on her right side. Rock’s husband, Bryan Schlotfeld, also suffered an aneurysm at the age of 31. He is paralyzed on his right side.
“I always tell people that I’m paralyzed on my left side, Bryan’s paralyzed on his right side, but together we are a whole person,” said Rock, laughing. “Bryan has aphasia (difficulty in talking), but with my gift of gab we get along just fine.”
Rock grew up in Hibbing, the daughter of the manager of the Hibbing Daily Tribune newspaper. She graduated from Hibbing High School in 1976 and lived just a block away from the home in which Robert Zimmerman grew up, later to become famous as singer/songwriter Bob Dylan.
“I didn’t know him,” she said. “I was too young, but my brothers knew him.”
Rock married a man who worked the printing press at the Hibbing Daily Tribune. Later, when her husband landed a pressman’s job with the St. Cloud Daily Times, they moved in 1977 to St. Cloud.
Eventually, Rock became an employee at the St. Cloud Hospital’s “Recovery Plus,” a program to help people overcome alcohol and/or drug addictions. In 1991, she was laid off and not long after she began work as a chemical/health coordinator at the College of St. Benedict. Then, during the skiing trip, the aneurysm devastated her health.
It took four years of agonizing, intensive rehabilitation to restore her functions. For eight months she was a patient in Country Manor in Sartell, waiting for an opening at the Courage Center, Golden Valley, where she could continue advanced rehabilitation. At times, she felt so humiliated because all of her functions, including bathing, had to be done by employees. Rock has always been active – a teacher of skating, a long-distance runner, a fiercely independent divorced mother of three children. Suddenly, she found herself in a dependent slump, utterly reliant on others.
“That was very hard – the emotional thing,” she recalled. “The physical things weren’t so bad, but the loss of independence was depressing.”
All the while, through the entire ordeal, Rock longed to talk to someone who was undergoing exactly what she was enduring.
“It was such a loss of dignity,” she said. “I felt really alone, and I longed for somebody who’d been through it. Someone I could connect with.”
Rock used to ask herself repeatedly, “If God is up there, why would he do this to me?”
At Country Manor, she used to hear a woman across the hall who was suffering as she was dying, and the woman would cry at night. Rock one night prayed to God that he would take that woman, to deliver her from pain and anguish. That night the woman died. And the next day, Rock, who had never been particularly a “believer,” suddenly began to believe, and faith became an important part of her recovery from that day onward.
“There’s a path for everybody, I believe, and it’s just that we don’t know it,” she said. “God paves the way for us. He has a plan. I don’t go to church, but I do pray because I know there’s something outside of me that helps me live my life, like finding my husband at Courage Center.”
That is where she met Schlotfeld, who hailed from Sauk Centre. They hit it off from the get-go.
Full life resumes
Four years after her accident, after all the hard work of therapy, Rock was hired again by the St. Cloud Hospital in 1995 as an intake counselor for the “Recovery Plus” program. Schlotfeld works part time at Tops Dry Cleaners.
Rock and Schlotfeld moved to a patio home in Sartell three years ago. They love to relax in their screened-in porch and watch the ducks on the big pond-with-fountain.
“Life is good,” Rock said. “We should live it to the fullest. So many things we take for granted. Oh sure, I still have some depression now and then, but you just have to go on. You deal with it. Life goes on.”
Rock has three grown children – twins Josh of Sauk Rapids and Amber of Elk River; and Chantal of Rice. She has eight grandchildren ranging in ages from 5 to 12. At the time of her medical crisis, she thought at first she may have lost connection with her children forever if she would not regain her health.
“There’s nothing better than being a grandma,” she said. “I have a very fulfilling life.”
Rock is happy readers like the book, and some have told her how inspiring it is. That was her hope, to uplift and inspire others. She’s been there, done that, and she knows others can too.
Anyone who would like to read Like a Rock can get copies from the author. Checks or money orders can be sent to Mary A. Czech, 2665 32nd St. SE, St. Cloud, Minn. 56304. Payment is also accepted for the book on Czech’s website via Paypal. The website is email@example.com.