Dorothy Sorlie: A Teacher’s Unbreakable Spirit

By Jacob Walters

Dorothy Sorlie has always been a passionate teacher, writer, and reader. However, at age 74, she found it more and more difficult to do the things she had loved her whole life.

Dorothy and her therapy dog, Mocha Joe.

“I thought ‘where are the good authors these days?’ Well it wasn’t the authors, it was me,” she said. Her problems began with difficulty reading and concentrating. Then she started experiencing decreased mobility and urinary incontinence, making her think she might have early dementia.

This kicked off a lengthy search for answers.

Sorlie tried everything. She visited numerous physicians, an acupuncture specialist, a chiropractor, an Eastern medicine doctor and others. She even traveled as far as Alabama from her home in Eau Claire, Wis. but nothing could relieve her symptoms.

Fortunately, she never gave up hope and kept looking for answers and eventually she was referred to neurosurgeon Dr. Jonathan Bledsoe, who conducted a CT scan and diagnosed her with Normal Pressure Hydrocephalus (NPH), a type of hydrocephalus that most commonly affects older adults. Sorlie underwent brain surgery to have a shunt placed almost immediately. Her surgery was successful and she checked into a rehab center for recovery.

Sorlie’s recovery was a yearlong grind filled with occupational, speech, and physical therapies. However, she showed the same grit and unbreakable spirit in her battle to recover as she did when searching for a diagnosis.

“I didn’t give up then either. I worked like a trooper and I still do,” she recalled.

Sorlie slowly but surely improved, eventually recovering completely from her debilitating symptoms. She relied heavily on her support system. “My husband was a rock. And so were my friends and my kids. My therapy dog, Mocha Joe, never left my side. They were right there,” she said.

Now she is back to doing all that she loves: reading, writing, walking, and spending time with her family. Her husband, Jim Urness, even describes her as being “back to 120 percent.”

Dorothy dedicates much of her time to educating others about NPH so they don’t have to suffer like she did.

As a former English instructor at Chippewa Valley Technical College, Sorlie sees her story as a chance to teach others about NPH in order to help them avoid her experience. Her story was featured in a local newspaper and health newsletters, she has given presentations to seniors at the Learning in Retirement Group, local organizations, and even informed medical professionals about her experience. She is now an Outreach Volunteer for the Hydrocephalus Association and is raising much-needed NPH awareness among both doctors and patients.

“My message is to get out there and help other people to become aware. It’s not about me. It’s about them trying to escape what I’ve endured,” Sorlie explained.

More than 700,000 Americans are estimated to have NPH, but less than 20 percent receive the proper diagnosis, with many misdiagnosed as having Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s disease.