On January 21, 2013, my grandson and I were enjoying a snowstorm at our camp in central Pennsylvania when I felt a tremendous pain in my eye, like a red-hot spike going right through my head. My grandson yelled for my wife, Denise. As a former certified nursing assistant, she recognized the signs of stroke and immediately called 911. The ambulance took me to the closest hospital: Mount Nittany Medical Center in State College, Pa.
After they examined me, I was taken into a large room. I looked up at the television and there was this giant digital head addressing me and the others in the room. The care team at Mount Nittany was talking to a neurologist from the telestroke program at Penn State Health Milton S. Hershey Medical Center. Dr. Ibrahimi took over the room and directed everybody’s activity. He was also able to look at my CT scan digitally. He could see me and I him, and he said, “I’m going to give you a drug, it’s called tPA. Tissue plasminogen activator.” Through the telestroke program, LionNet, Dr. Ibrahimi was able to assess my condition and direct treatment through a real-time, remote audio-visual system—even though I was at Mount Nittany Medical Center and he was in Hershey – 100 miles away!
I found out later, my stroke was massive. It resulted in a great deal of swelling in my brain. When I awoke after two comas, I was paralyzed on my left side and I was blind. I was told that, due to the amount of brain damage I had, I might never walk again. That was my motivation – I’ll go against what someone says, even if it’s logical, just to prove them wrong. While I was unable to serve in the military, many family members, including my son, are in the military. There are certain military values that have always inspired me – like the motto SERE – Survive, Evade, Resist and Escape. That motto gave me strength and motivation to fight. I couldn’t move and I couldn’t see, but in my mind I thought, as long as I could learn to do those things again, I would be okay. So I set little goals for myself. I decided to get some things done. And I decided to work.
Just over three years later, I am walking, although slowly, with a cane. While I don’t have full use of my left arm and hand, I have regained much of my vision. It’s been a long, hard road. My wife helps me with daily therapy that’s based on research on retraining the brain.
I credit many things, including those military values, for the progress I’ve made. Certainly my wife, Denise, my primary caregiver and my reason for living; my daughter, Ashley; son, Christian; and three grandchildren; the Penn State Comprehensive Stroke Center team; my faith; and all the friends and family who made sure I had visitors every day. My wife and I are working on a plan to mentor stroke caregivers and survivors because strokes don’t just happen to the individual; they happen to the entire family. The first thing I would say to a stroke survivor is “never give up. Go to a stroke support group and find out that you’re not alone.”