A Stroke of Luck

I didn't comprehend a word. 'What did you say?' I asked, except the words that came out of my mouth were completely slurred. What I actually said was, 'Laht di thoo thay?' I thought to myself, 'That's weird, I sound just like Dick Clark.' Then it hit me:

Jan 7, 2009 at 2:06 pm

One year ago this week, on the morning of Jan. 3, 2008, I woke up with an excruciating headache.

I sleepily stumbled downstairs, used the bathroom, popped a couple of Advil and headed back to bed. I’ll feel better in a couple of hours, I thought to myself, and then head in to work.

My wife was getting ready for her morning workout and came upstairs about 15 minutes later. She asked me a question, but in my state of semi-consciousness I didn’t comprehend a word.

“What did you say?” I asked, except the words that came out of my mouth were completely slurred. What I actually said was, “Laht di thoo thay?”

I thought to myself, That’s weird, I sound just like Dick Clark.

“You’re moaning,” my wife replied as she headed back downstairs.

I rolled from my side to my back and closed my eyes again. A few minutes later I opened my eyes as I felt a strange weight on my chest. With my right hand, I patted the left arm that was resting on my chest.

Whose arm is this?, I thought. Ohmigod, there’s a dead person’s arm on my chest!

I opened my eyes and tried to prop myself up. I couldn’t. I rolled my eyes to my left and watched myself pat my “dead” left arm. That’s when it hit me: Holy shit, I’m having a stroke!

I called out as loud as I could. By the grace of God, my wife hadn’t yet left for the gym. She ran upstairs, turned on the light, saw the droop on the left side of my mouth and immediately called 911.

Within minutes, I was being wheeled out of my home on a gurney and transported to the emergency room at University Hospital.

My mind raced. Less than three weeks removed from my 47th birthday, I thought I was about to die.

What I experienced was a tear in the lining of my carotid artery. The narrowing of the vessel wall combined with subsequent clotting resulted in a temporary blockage of blood flow to my brain.

While a rare form of stroke, it’s most common in active men of my age group. Fortunately, it’s rarely fatal and full recovery is likely as the tear heals itself over a three- to six-month period.

As I write this, I’m in strong health with normal blood pressure and cholesterol levels. When I’m stressed and/or fatigued, I’ll feel some weakness in my left leg. Otherwise, I’ve resumed my active lifestyle.

During my recovery, my neurologist encouraged me to publish an educational article in CityBeat. He told me that surprisingly few people recognize even one of the classic symptoms of a stroke.

I’ve since learned that stroke is the third leading cause of death in the United States. People who survive a stroke often experience lifelong deficits with speech, limb movement and thought processes. It’s the No. 1 cause of adult disability in America.

I was one of the lucky ones.

We are indeed fortunate to have the UC Neuroscience Institute here in Cincinnati. It’s one of the nation’s leading stroke centers. Neurologists here have pioneered advanced diagnosis and treatments in all aspects of stroke.

Their message to the community is simple: Act F.A.S.T. If you think someone is having a stroke, do this one-minute test:

Face: Ask the person to smile. Does one side of the face droop?

Arms: Ask the person to raise both arms. Does one arm drift downward?

Speech: Ask the person to repeat a simple sentence. Are the words slurred? Can he/she repeat the sentence correctly?

Time: If the person shows any of these symptoms, time is important. Call 911 or get to the hospital fast. Brain cells are dying.

If you or someone you’re with is experiencing these symptoms, call 911 immediately. A stroke can happen to anyone at anytime regardless of age, race or sex.

A stroke is a brain attack, cutting off vital blood flow and oxygen to the brain. Two million brain cells die every minute during a stroke, increasing the risk of permanent brain damage, disability or death.

Neurologists say the key to survival and recovery is getting a stroke recognized, diagnosed and medically caring for the patient within three hours, which is tough to do.

Me? Within an hour of waking up that fateful morning, I’d been CT scanned, MRI’d, EKG’d and was on my way to the recovery room. The next week I began physical therapy to remap my circuits and to regain strength in my left arm and leg.

By March I was back in the gym. Come summer I was on the sand volleyball court, bumping, setting and spiking with my buds. I told no one about my “accident.”

My neurologist, Dr. Brett Kissella, specializes in stroke recovery. His advice to me while in recovery? “Live your life.”

With a renewed appreciation for life’s blessings, I’m grateful to be able to heed his words. Best wishes for a happy and healthy 2009.

CONTACT DAN BOCKRATH: [email protected]