Steve, 32, lives in Colorado. The former competitive cyclist suffered a massive stroke three years ago, just after graduating from college with a business finance degree.
What was your first sign that something was wrong? What symptoms did you experience?
The summer before my stroke, I think I had two TIAs (transient ischemic attacks). The first one was more extreme. I was loading the car to go camping when I started feeling dizzy. I fell down. I tried to get up and half my body was paralyzed. This went on for about five minutes. Then I was able to get up and go to bed. The next morning, I felt fine. I just thought I was having a seizure, because I had one in 1987. I went to a neurologist who said it probably was a seizure, maybe from the stress of final exams. No tests were done.
About a month later, my arm went dead after I returned from a bike ride. I had my big stroke the day after graduation. My former cycling coach and roommate were with me. We'd been to the gym, playing basketball and lifting weights. I was driving and had this outrageous headache. They kept asking if I was OK, because I was swerving. I couldn't respond, but a few hundred yards from home, I came to a stop. My head went down to the steering wheel. They threw me in the backseat and drove me to the hospital.
What was the diagnosis experience like?
At the hospital, the doctors asked if I was on anything. My friends said no and told the doctors about my seizure and that I only had strength on my one side. The doctor gave me a seizure medication and had me wait. After a few hours, I had the massive stroke. I don't remember anything until the next morning. I think they did tests and figured out it was a stroke. But by then it was too late to do anything.
What was your initial and then longer-term reaction to the diagnosis?
When I woke up, they told me I had a stroke. I was pretty confused, thinking I'm too young to have a stroke. I didn't know what a stroke really was. But, these things happen to people. I wasn't going to let it affect my life. My attitude was good. I knew I was going to get better. I could see improvement, and that got me motivated. I knew the future was going to be brighter.
How is a stroke treated?
They kept me in the hospital for two weeks and then sent me to a rehab facility. I couldn't speak for a long time. I remember, a few days after the stroke, walking down the hall really slowly with someone holding me up. But after about a week, I was able to walk. It was everyday things I had to relearn. I tried to comb my hair with a toothbrush. They showed me pictures of a refrigerator and car, and asked me to point to each. I couldn't get it right. They said I had aphasia. [Aphasia is a loss or impairment of the power to use or comprehend words.] There are still little things I struggle with on a daily basis. I'm not good with numbers, and my handwriting is horrible. All in all, I'm one of the lucky ones. I work with computers and use one to spell check. I function. I still ride a bike. I take an aspirin a day and medication to lower my cholesterol.
Did you have to make any lifestyle or dietary changes in response to the stroke?
I've always been pretty healthy, an athlete. I never smoked or did drugs. I had only an occasional glass of wine. So I didn't have to change much. I run every other day and ride my bike on the weekends. I also snowshoe and cross-country ski to stay active. I watch my diet. I eat fewer eggs and steak and more fish.
Did you seek any type of emotional support?
No. My friends were very supportive. My former coach stayed with me for 10 days, before returning home, then called daily for three months. He is the most positive person, never in a bad mood. He's probably the reason I didn't get depressed. He contacted mutual friends and made sure they called me.
Does the stroke have any impact on your family?
I had just taken my parents to the airport to go home to California. They flew back. It was harder on Mom. She has Parkinson's and gets emotional.
What advice would you give to anyone living with a stroke?
Stay positive. The next day will be better than today. Learn about stroke. The National Stroke Association has good, reliable information. If I knew anything about strokes or TIAs, I would have gone to the hospital immediately after the first TIA. These things can be prevented.
Interviews were conducted in the past and may not reflect current standards and practices in medicine. Talk to your doctor to learn more about how this condition is diagnosed and managed today and what treatment approaches are right for you.
As told to Debra Wood, RN