Stroke Survival, Acceptance, and Prevention

By David Powdrell

Eighteen years ago (on November 29), at age 49, a genetic aneurysm burst in my brain. The experience was a simultaneous combination of euphoria and panic. The ensuing stroke caused me to lose use of the right side of my body. All sense of numbers was gone. It was an interesting place to find myself.   

Much of my previous self was forever altered, but with the incredible help of my family and the therapists, nurses, and doctors at Cottage Rehabilitation Hospital, the opportunities and positive changes after my stroke have been incredible. Doors closed. More and better doors opened.  

Of the many discoveries I’ve picked up these last 18 years is that somewhere between 75%-80% of strokes are preventable. That statistic continues to floor me! By monitoring blood pressure, eating smarter, cutting out smoking, and exercising, you significantly reduce the likelihood of having a stroke. 

I’ve also learned that recognizing the signs of a stroke are critical to recovery.  The acronym to remember is FAST. The letter F stands for Face. A person whose smile droops to one side might be having a stroke. A stands for arms. Ask the person to raise both arms. If one arm droops down, that’s a possible stroke in progress. S is for Speech. Ask the person to repeat a simple sentence. Slurred words are a sign. Finally, T is for Time. Getting to a hospital within the first several hours can make all the difference in the recovery process.

Racquet sports, skiing and surfing are challenging for me these days, but the power of the arts, volunteering, gardening, and celebrating family have blossomed. I’m a very grateful stroke survivor. Every day is a gift.     

My friend, Harvard-trained neuroanatomist, Jill Bolte Taylor, and I had very similar strokes, very similar experiences as our strokes were happening, and have similar brain surgery scars to boot. Her TED TALK is worth taking a peek at and her book, My Stroke of Insight is a powerful read:     

So on this day, the eighteenth anniversary of surviving my stroke, I hope that maybe, just maybe, you and your loved ones will monitor your blood pressure, eat vegetables, cut cigarettes out of your life and/or make long walks part of your life. Not everyone survives a stroke. If I can prevent just one more stroke, that’d be cool. 

One final thought before I sign off. I’ve learned that everyone has had or will have a significant challenge in their life of one form or another. It’s part of humanity. It’s how you deal with your challenge that will define you. I hope you choose grace and gratefulness.  The Tibetan monk Khenchen Konchog Gyaltshen Rinpoche discusses four benefits of suffering: wisdom, resilience, compassion, and a deep respect for reality.

For more information about strokes, check out the following links: or 


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