Rodd’s Story

Rodd Zinberg stands smiling in front of a personalized poster with motivational messages.

Los Angeles native Alexander “Rodd” Zinberg was 41 when he began to experience changes in his vision. Over the course of several months his sight decreased in acuity, eventually becoming blurry. As a painter, sculptor, and screenwriter, visual sharpness played an integral role in his work.

Rodd pursued answers from vision specialists who ordered an MRI. The MRI showed a meningioma, the most common type of primary brain tumor accounting for approximately 30 percent of brain tumors. Soon after the MRI, Rodd’s tumor was removed in a seven-hour operation. Following the procedure, in ICU, Rodd suffered a stroke. After spending many days in the ICU and the hospital, doctors recommended inpatient rehabilitation to give him the best chance at a full recovery. Rodd’s family chose California Rehabilitation Institute based on a positive prior experience with another family member. 

Arriving at Cal Rehab

After surgery, “Saying I was in the twilight zone barely scratched the surface on how I was feeling. I was scared. I felt like I was in a foreign place I knew little about,” Rodd recalls. “I couldn’t walk or even sit up on my own. I couldn’t see straight and was unable to feel or move the left side of my body.” With goals of improving his cognition and regaining the ability to walk, Rodd’s physician-led team headed by Dr. Seth Herman, created a treatment plan to help him. His care team consisted of nurses, physical, occupational, and speech therapists, neuropsychologists and neuro optometrists, each of whom played a critical role in his recovery. 

Rodd’s nurses assisted by caring for his wound from the craniotomy, a surgical procedure in which part of the skull is temporarily removed to expose the brain and reduce intracranial pressure. Those nurses also assisted with behavior management when Rodd became confused. They also ensured his safety while he relearned to feed himself.

Physical therapists helped Rodd regain his ability to walk using several pieces of specialized rehabilitation equipment, including a functional electrical stimulation (FES) bicycle that applies low-level electrical impulses to muscles and nerves to make them move. The bike can detect changes in muscle strength and activate a motor to take over as the muscles fatigue. Over time, this retrains the muscles and nerves to function more normally.

Physical therapists also utilized the LiteGait, a body-weight supported harness device that simultaneously lessens the weight on an individual’s legs while also helping posture and balance over a treadmill or the floor, allowing a patient to re-learn to walk without the risk of falling. Rodd was also fitted for an ankle-foot orthotic, which helped to stabilize his joints while improving his ability to walk. As he progressed, Rodd began to walk more independently, first with a walker and then a cane.

In occupational therapy, electrical stimulation was reenlisted to help Rodd regain use of his left hand and arm. The team used a portable FES device to help him work on simultaneous physical movements and activities using the upper and lower body. Therapeutic taping provided additional support to Rodd’s left arm allowing him to more easily complete his personal care and other activities of daily living.

Speech therapists worked with Rodd to increase his safety awareness and learn new strategies for improving his communication, attention and memory. Additionally, speech therapy worked with Rodd to modify his diet and implement swallowing techniques to reduce the risk of aspiration, or accidentally inhaling food into the airway or lungs.

To boost Rodd’s vision, neuro optometrists utilized specialized visual rehabilitation equipment, including prism lenses, in his therapy sessions. The prism lenses were used to correct his double vision by tricking the eye into believing an object was in a different location. This improved his eye alignment.

After an initial six-week stay at Cal Rehab, Rodd was discharged to a specialized neurological facility to await his cranioplasty – refitting the piece of bone removed from his skull. When this procedure was completed, Rodd was ready to return to Cal Rehab and build on his progress. “When I came back the second time…it really became clear what this place was about,” he said. “I could think more clearly and be more engaged. I could even read better. It seemed to happen quickly.” Rodd’s therapists said he showed significant improvements in his mental clarity and had increased movement in his left leg.

Rodd’s care team took advantage of this momentum by pushing him more than during his first stay. Physical therapists focused on increasing movement, balance and strengthening of Rodd’s left leg. By the end of his second stay, Rodd was able to walk with an ankle foot brace and cane for support with a therapist providing limited support for balance.

Occupational therapy sessions focused on increasing movement and control in Rodd’s left arm. Along with that, his balance and coordination improved, allowing him to handle his own self-care tasks with minor assistance.

As Rodd’s attention and focus improved, speech therapists ramped up his exercises concentrating on planning, organization, reasoning and problem solving. All this in an effort to boost his independence. Rodd’s new therapy sessions included making appointments, managing money and planning meals. As he gained mental clarity, he started putting the swallowing strategies he was taught into practice and soon resumed a regular, solid diet.

As Rodd progressed, it lifted his spirits significantly. “My therapists have helped me very much,” he said. “I was in a pretty dark place but I’ve finally found some light. Everyone has been really sweet and patient with me. It’s been a long ride and I’m happy to be on the other side of it.”

Rodd credits his family and friends for helping him recover. Their visits buoyed him, providing glimmers of hope and a reminder of the life he was working to reclaim. “It was a nice distraction at times and was a nice change of pace when things were hard,” he stated. 


After his second six-week stay at Cal Rehab, Rodd was eager to build upon his progress by continuing with therapy at home as well as a community-based program. He was also looking forward to tasting the freedom of setting his own schedule, feeling fresh air and indulging in some of his favorite dishes, like linguine and clams. Rodd continues to do therapy on a daily basis.

For those facing a difficult recovery like Rodd’s, he says, “You have to be strong, like out of body strong. The emotional and psychological stress I endured was extreme, like bad movie drama extreme. Worrying doesn’t help that much. Breathe through it, breathe deep and breathe frequently. Find that being that exists in your soul, desirous of recovery.” The influence of Rodd’s recovery on his art ( and screenwriting is yet to be determined, but he knows it will undoubtedly add increasing depth and dimension to his work moving forward.