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Survivor Exceeds Expectations

What else could possibly go wrong? I had just finished a week-long corporate audit and as I sat down to sign some lingering paperwork I noticed the fingers of my right hand weren’t functioning very well. Must just be stress, I told myself.

Leaving early, I drove up the mountain to our home. As I was meandering up the narrow roads, I noticed my right arm was becoming non-responsive. Eight hours later, I jumped out of bed and fell flat on my face. ‘My God, I’m having a stroke,’ I realized. Picking up the phone I dialed for my wife more than six hours away.

Seventeen hours and $27,000 later, a completely equipped Lear jet landed at Moissan Field in New Orleans, Louisiana. Two days later, after extensive testing, I received the results of my brain insult. Laying in the hospital bed, I literally lost all hope. My life was over. My wife could be heard outside my room crying as the doctors told her that in a few days I would be discharged from the hospital. I wondered how long it would be until I finally met the grim reaper.

Then, two friends dropped in to see me. Unbeknownst to me, one was a stroke survivor. Looking at my despondent face he said, “When are you going to get the hell out of bed?” If I could have, I would have taken his neck in my hands, and that, believe it or not, was the real beginning of my recovery.

Since then, I have given up smoking, lost 108 pounds and learned how to eat properly. If it sounds like a miracle, it was. If I had not had my stroke in 2001, I would not be alive today! My ‘Stroke of Luck’ was the life-threatening event that convinced me it was time to change.

I couldn’t walk the length of our front driveway, but my neighbor came over every day to make sure I tried. At first it was pure hell, but each day my driveway limp got better. On the first day, I walked one length of the driveway. The next day I walked two.

My primary health care physician strongly suggested that I make a few ‘lifestyle changes.’ Suddenly, all my cigarettes and lighters disappeared. The ample supply of cookies and candies vanished and fruits and vegetables began appearing everywhere. Soon it was 8 times up and down the driveway each day.

A national drug manufacturer announced in the daily newspaper that they were looking for diabetics to take part in a 13-month weight loss study. I figured I was near death, so why not. Eat these foods, not those. Keep a journal of everything that goes into your mouth. Record every step, every day from your pedometer and increase your daily walking each week by 500 steps. After 13 months I had lost 68 pounds, was off all medication, and had signed up for a local 10K.

Inspired by the effort of my friends and family I aimed to pay it forward for new stroke patients. I got involved in two support groups at the Ochsner Hospital and East Jefferson General Hospital. 

I was asked to visit a man in his hospital room a few days after his stroke. As I walked in, I saw myself a few years earlier; a man lying in bed looking like he was just waiting to fall asleep and never wake up again. He was tired of hearing people talk about him like he wasn’t even in the room. We began talking like two long lost brothers who shared a common past. Before I left, I asked him when the hell he was going to get out of bed. He didn’t get my neck, but he got mad enough to pull himself up and get on with his life.

In the past 11 years since my stroke, my priorities have completely changed. Family and friends have skyrocketed up my bucket list. Things that would have upset me in the past just don’t phase me anymore. I only take preventative vitamins and am no longer considered a diabetic. I don’t smoke, I don’t overeat and I work out every day. I wish I could claim credit for my improvement, but a lot of my motivation came from prior stroke patients who took the time to explain to me their perspective on recovery. They listened and answered questions, and I respected their views since we were stroke survivors together.

If you are a survivor of the over 750,000 strokes that occur in the United States annually and can find a support group nearby, please consider attending a meeting. You may have impact on someone who needs the very medicine that only you can provide: the medicine of words and support.

If you have been blessed with a second chance at life, use your gift to assist other stroke survivors who desperately need the knowledge of the stroke recovery process. Only you can intimately relate to their situation. And, while you are helping them, you will be rewarded with a sense of wellbeing much greater than you can ever imagine.

By: John Paul Haley, Stroke survivor, retiree from Kaiser Aluminum and Chemical Company, and president of Naturally N’awlins Toastmasters.

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"A lot of my motivation came from prior stroke patients who took the time to explain to me their perspective on recovery."

The tender side of tough love

Being the recipient of tough love is not fun or even appreciated initially, but it can be the most effective expression of a friend’s or family member’s support. Remember, tough love is not fun for them either. They are just as uncertain as you are. In retrospect, now that my tough love is behind me, I see it in a positive light. I consider it to be the tool that maximized my recovery.

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