Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Treasure Valley Heart Walk

May is “National Stroke Awareness Month.” In addition, on May 14th Saturday, May 14,  is the Treasure Valley Heart Walk where thousands of walkers from across the Treasure Valley as they step out to have fun, get inspired, and support a meaningful cause.

It seems that every “cause” had a “month” or “day.” Some many people have diseases and/or conditions. I was one of those people who would glance at articles or watch news about heart wrenching stories. Then, I would turn the page or the channel, and move on really never thinking about the actual people who are affected.

I was too busy in my professional and personal life to consider the wreckage of heart disease and strokes. I was a high profile man on the top of my game. I was a top trade association executive, successful lobbyist, and elective official on the Board of the College of Western Idaho.  I was 50 years old and in good health. My wife and I had a 6 year old son.

Nevertheless, about 4 years ago, I became a statistic. Now, I am one of those “people” I used to feel sorry about and turn the page.

January 10, 2012, I had a stroke at home. Three days later in the hospital, I had a massive stroke the left 20% of my brain damaged.

The statistics I used to ignore are sobering.  According to the American Heart and Stroke Association: 

About 795,000 Americans each year suffer a new or recurrent stroke. That means, on average, a stroke occurs every 40 seconds.

Stroke kills nearly 129,000 people a year.

It is the No. 5 cause of death.

On average, every 4 minutes someone dies of stroke.

About 40 percent of stroke deaths occur in males, and 60 percent in females.

In 2010, worldwide prevalence of stroke was 33 million, with 16.9 million people having a first stroke. Stroke is the leading cause of adult disability.

2010 for stroke-related medical costs and disability.

African-Americans have nearly twice the risk for a first-ever stroke than Caucasians and a much higher death rate from stroke.

Any stroke is devastating and every stroke is different. My ischemic stroke affected my left side. My right arm was paralyzed for a while. I lost all communication: Reading, writing, math, etc. I did not even know my own name.

In addition to the shattering mental and physical issues, the emotional and financial were equally catastrophic. Many stroke survivors lose their job and/or housing because they cannot work anymore. I assumed I would get back to my “normal life” again. However, the road to my recovery was incredibly difficult. 

Through years of therapy and struggle, I am “back” but different. I still have deficits like aphasia and apraxia.  I call these my “Invisible brain scars.”

Yet, I am so grateful. Though I cannot work anymore because of the strokes, I still continue to try to make a difference on the CWI Board. After my strokes, I joined the American Heart and Stroke Association Board, Idaho Housing and Finance Association, and the Housing Company. 

I now speak at schools about strokes, recovery, and possibilities. I tell kids to learn “FAST:”

FACE Drooping: Does one side of the face droop or is it numb? Ask the person to smile. Is the person's smile uneven?

ARM Weakness – Is one arm weak or numb? Ask the person to raise both arms. Does one arm drift downward

SPEECH Difficulty – Is speech slurred? Is the person unable to speak or hard to understand? Ask the person to repeat a simple sentence, like "The sky is blue." Is the sentence repeated correctly?

TIME to call 9-1-1 – If someone shows any of these symptoms, even if the symptoms go away, call 9-1-1 and get the person to the hospital immediately. Check the time so you'll know when the first symptoms appeared.

Stroke Month and the Heart Walk are reminders that life is precious.  The tag line for the American Heart and Stroke Association is “Life is Why.” That is so personal for me. My life is why. My family is why. My recovery is why. My possibilities are why. 

Never turn the page like I did. It could be you.  

1 comment:

Rebecca Dutton said...

The photo of you speaking to a group about stroke gave me goose bumps.