19 February 2010

Therapeutic throwing: Lakeville man credits part of stroke recovery to pottery classes

By Joseph Palmersheim - Sun Newspapers
Published: Thursday, February 18, 2010 3:19 PM CST
Don Krukow, a Lakeville resident who survived a stroke in 2006, never thought he'd be able to live an active life after his life changed so suddenly at 2:30 a.m. on an otherwise ordinary March day.
"I remember going up the stairs, and I just fell down," he said. "My eyes were open, but I couldn't speak. I had no feelings in my right or left arm. And that's all I knew."

Krukow, a PhD who had spent a 30-year career with the Minnesota Department of Education and spoke five languages, faced the prospect of learning how to read and write again. The stroke also affected his hands.

He's been able to recover much of the feeling and strength in both with exercises - and nearly a year of pottery classes at the Lakeville Area Arts Center. He and Jo Anne Andres of Lakeville, an Arts Center pottery instructor, will speak about the therapeutic uses of pottery 1 p.m. Monday, March 2, at Methodist Hospital in St. Louis Park.

"When Don came in a year ago, he was a little tentative," Andres said. "It was about two weeks after we first met. I was really excited for him to come in. His dexterity has improved a lot. When he first came in, he was sticking his fingers through the first pots he made when he took them off the boards for drying. Since then, he's been very successful, and his pottery has become much more proficient."

As he kneads a lump of clay, Krukow elaborates on how pottery improved his life in addition to his dexterity.

"I thought my life was over," he says. "I thought all I had to do was watch life on TV, until I came here. This is such a great place."

He looks over at Troy Dahnke of Forrest Lake, another stroke survivor who also throws pots at the Arts Center.

"It's amazing what we've done," Krukow muses, smiling.

As he seats himself at an electric wheel, Krukow begins to wrangle the uneven clay into a smooth, even shape, occasionally dripping water over the surface to keep friction to a minimum. His foot controls the electric motor that spins the wheel

"Having it centered before you start opening [it] is real important," Andres says, referring to the metaphorical blooming process that raises walls out of what minutes before was a spinning lump of clay. "You can't be distracted by other things. You have to be concentrating on the clay. You have to be centered yourself. Now, you can see the clay has settled, and Don has gone into his 'Zen state.'"

As Krukow makes a hole in the center of the spinning mass, he begins to raise the outer edges, and with each pass of his rising hands, the walls of the bowl become more defined.
"I felt very thankful when I made my first pot," he said. "I felt I could do nothing anymore. When I could [do this], well, damn it, I was happy."

A few minutes later, the bowl is roughly half a foot high, with the outline shape of an upside down lampshade.

"I think this one will be white, and dark blue," Krukow says, easing his foot off of the wheel pedal and allowing his latest creation to spin to a halt.

"I think pottery is about learning to use your hands in a balanced way," Andres said. "You have to use your hands pretty evenly. As a stroke survivor, I'm guessing he used his weaker hand less than his stronger hand, and he's been able to use both of them and get good balance. It's the fine motions, dexterity at the fingertips. I'm thrilled for him - and he wants me to work with more stroke people, and build their confidence."

Andres said she and Krukow were in the early stages of planning pottery classes specifically for stroke survivors. For more information on Krukow's upcoming speaking engagement, call 952-993-6789 or e-mail strokeinspire@parknicollet.com.

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