Before the stroke, I spent my professional life helping others as the licensed therapist, which I loved. After work one night, my son asked me if I wanted to work out with him and a buddy in my family room. What the heck. I wasn’t doing anything, and I could lose some weight. Not long into it, I suddenly felt exhausted, and I laid down… right there on the floor. I was not able to walk or talk, and my face looked odd. Unbeknownst to me, I had a serious ischemic stroke. I was rushed into the hospital, received TPA (an anti-clot medication), and spent time at a stroke rehab facility.
That was January 24, 2012. In short, I thought my life my over.
A piece of plaque traveled up my left carotid artery and various parts became stuck in my left brain, causing the affected parts of my brain to die. Because it was on the left side of my brain, speech was impossible, and the right side of my body was seriously impaired. I could read, but I could not identify letters. I had trouble writing, standing, swallowing, balancing, and had to sit in a wheelchair. I had to quit my job that I loved, and I could no longer play my electric bass due to an uncooperative right hand.
I received invaluable support from my girlfriend (who later became my wife), children, colleagues, and friends. I had speech, occupational, and physical therapy from the hospital where I was a patient, and I continued outpatient therapy after being discharged for a short time until my insurance ran out. When I could no longer afford it, I relied on the health providers who graciously gave me discounts (some by as much as 100 percent). With encouragement from the Idaho State University Speech and Language Program, I helped start an Aphasia Stroke Recovery Support Program for stroke survivors.
I also improvised. After about 12 months after my stroke, I began working out, riding my bike short distances, weights in the gym, and swimming. As my stamina slowly increased, I began to go on longer bike rides and swims. I remember the days when I could go 10 miles on my bike and swim 200 yards, and I was so proud of myself. I wasn’t this active prestroke for decades!
In June 2015 I moved to Kona on the ‘Big Island’ of Hawaii after my wife was offered a job there. It must have been God intervening because soon after my move I found a new purpose in life. On October 10, 2015, I volunteered at the Ironman World Championships in Kona, Hawaii. I had a lot of fun and it got me thinking… “I could do something like that.” So, I decided to do triathlons to prove to myself and other stroke survivors can do hard things.
Thus, I began my new purpose in life. Instead of helping people from a therapist’s chair, I repurposed my life to helping stroke survivors find meaning and hope for their lives. I wanted to show them that their lives are not wasted; that through hard work, they can once again find meaning in their lives.
Since having a stroke, I have met countless other stroke survivors and their communities (partners/spouse, family, friends, coworkers, etc.) who don’t know where to look for help. So often, this leads to a complete loss of hope. So, I formed Stroke Survivors CAN! in 2018. Though this nonprofit organization, it is giving stroke survivors and their communities hope and empowerment through restoring lives and setting new directions.