Stroke Survivor’s Inspiring Fight to Get Back in the Saddle


In late 2015, retired Reno resident and horseback riding enthusiast Joe Pierucci suffered a severe stroke. By working with occupational therapists at Renown Rehabilitation Hospital, he was motivated and able to return to Marvin Picollo School, where he volunteers with the Marvin Picollo Therapeutic Horseback Riding Program.

“When I first met Joe, the first thing he said to me was, ‘Can you bring a horse to the hospital for me?'” says Laura McHarg, Renown Rehabilitation Hospital occupational therapist. “And I told him, ‘Maybe a pony.” 

In late 2015, retired Reno resident Joe Pierucci suffered a severe stroke.

“When he came here, his whole left side was paralyzed,” says Joe’s wife, Mischelle Pierucci.

Little things, like brushing his teeth, was a challenge. With a positive attitude and six hours of daily therapy, Pierucci began to slowly regain his ability to walk and use his hand.

“They keep you going,” Pierucci says of his occupational therapists at Renown. “And you need that. You need someone to push you, and everybody is very uplifting.”

Pierucci’s main inspiration to recover is his love of horses and the children he worked with as a volunteer for the Marvin Picollo Therapeutic Horseback Riding Program at Marvin Picollo School, the Washoe County School District’s regional special education center specializing in the education of students ages 3 to 22.

A month and a half after being released from Renown Rehabilitation Hospital, Pierucci returned to Marvin Picollo School for his first ride on a horse since his stroke. He was joined by his family and hospital staff, and was overwhelmed with emotion.

“There aren’t enough words. Those ladies over there at the fence, they are the ones that did it,” Pierucci says as he motions to his therapists. “They pushed and prodded and got me going.”

Learn more about Renown Rehabilitation Hospital and Stroke Care at Renown online.