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updated: Nov 21, 2009, 8:31 AM
By David Powdrell
This isn't my typical light-hearted Edhat photo article. But maybe it'll be my most meaningful piece. I want to share my very personal first hand accounts into the world of strokes. My hope is that I can help prevent someone else from walking this walk.
Twenty million people worldwide will suffer a stroke this year. Of those, five million will die. Americans will spend $68.9 billion for stroke related recovery and disability. Here comes the wildest statistic though. Eighty percent (80%) of all strokes are preventable, per the National Stroke Association. The other concerning statistic is that strokes are happening more regularly to younger people every year.
I was 49 when I had my stroke. I surfed, kayaked, hiked and played squash regularly. I was at the top of my game. While at my son's condo moving furniture, my right leg went numb, and then my right arm. I thought how cool it was, I'd never had them asleep at the same time. I sat down to wait it out.
When I stood up, however, I knew I was in trouble as I fell to the floor. The right side of my body not only went to sleep, it was complete dead weight now. I had no finger movement, and no use of my arm or leg. I knew I should have been concerned, but it was, for me, a very blissful and calm place to be. Part of my brain wanted to just lie back and enjoy the beauty around me. Birds were singing and the sky was a beautiful blue. The other part of my brain, however, knew that I had an emergency situation on my hands. I called my wife on the cell phone that I miraculously remembered to bring with me that morning.
Before long, I was whisked to Cottage Hospital, then to Cottage Rehabilitation Hospital, where the amazing doctors, nurses and therapists whipped me back into shape. That month there was hardest workout of my life, and I will forever be indebted to them for how they worked so persistently and passionately on my recovery.
Fast-forward 5 years, to yesterday.
I'm sitting in the Houston airport, waiting for my plane to take me back to Santa Barbara. I've just spent another week visiting my brother, Earle, who had a brain stem stroke 7 weeks ago. Earle's a runner and a rocket scientist with NASA in his hometown of Houston. His stroke has left him with only the blinking of his eyes to communicate with the outside world. But he's fighting an incredible battle to win back as much of his independence as possible. With an eye recognition computer system, he can type words and will eventually be able to send emails and surf the Internet. He's just beginning to gain hand movement and head movement, which allow him to drive his own electric wheelchair. His story is an incredible one that just keeps getting better every day.
We'd had two completely different types of strokes. Mine was an Arteriovenous malformation or AVM, which bled; Earle's stroke was due to a blood clot that lodged at his brain stem. Before my stroke, we'd had no history of strokes in our family.
The symptom that both Earle and I shared, I learned yesterday, was a blind eye. He awoke on the morning of his stroke with a blind left eye. He figured it'd go away as he showered, shaved and got himself dressed for work. But it didn't dissipate. Then came the numbness. He sat down on the edge of his bed. When he tried to stand up, he too, fell in a heap to the floor.
Because he was alone on a business trip and without the ability to get to his cell phone, Earle spent 26 hours on the ground before help arrived. He was alert and awake the whole time. He heard the phone ringing constantly from calls from his wife and daughter, but was unable to get to them.
Other common symptoms, besides partial blindness include, slurred speech, heavy arms and a droopy face.
How do your prevent yourself from having a stroke? The American Stroke Association and the National Stroke Association both have lists of things you can do to help prevent a stroke. They include reducing your blood pressure, cutting out smoking, reducing diets high in saturated fats, staying active, limiting your salt intake and watching your weight. Check out their websites for details: www.stroke.org or www.strokeassociation.org
The most important message I want to stress is that if you or a loved one has any of the symptoms of a stroke, get to a doctor immediately. Time is critical.
If there's any benefit to being a stroke survivor, it's that your priorities get shuffled around in a really good way. And yes, the roses do smell better.
Thanks for reading. I wish you all good health.
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David is a board member of the Rehabilitation Hospital Foundation and a peer volunteer at Cottage Rehabilitation Hospital.
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