My brother-in-law Randy suffered a catastrophic stroke about a month ago. Steve Sebby had his stroke in January 2015. Randy is about my age, Steve is in his thirties. What strikes me most about their stories is the similarities. What amazes me is the differences.
Both men woke up feeling off. Steve felt “completely dizzy.” Randy felt disoriented and like he laid on his arm wrong, because it felt like it was asleep. Brittany, Steve’s wife, and Vickie, Randy’s wife, were ready for work and about to leave the house. Brittany called an ambulance, Vickie took Randy to the hospital; getting an ambulance to their home would take longer than driving him to the hospital.
Both men suffered a severe, or catastrophic stroke. Strokes kill almost 130,000 Americans each yer. More than 795,00 people in the U.S. have a stroke every year. Strokes can be treated if caught in the right amount of time.
Steve had been taking aspirin for what he thought was muscle pain in his neck from cross-fit training. Vickie gave Randy aspirin, just before they left the house.
“You’re going the wrong way,” Randy said. “You’re lost.”
Vickie, who, like me, can get lost in a paper bag, had traverse this stretch of road hundreds of times. She knew the way; but Randy’s disorientation unsettled her. He was the family navigator.
Once admitted, the floor nurse asked why he was there. “Your blood sugar is a little high, but not worthy of a hospital stay,” she commented to Vickie.
Randy had a CT scan, which, like Steve’s, was inconclusive. However, in Randy’s case, the MRI was busy until 11:00 p.m., so he had to wait at the back of the line.
Steve was flown to Rush University Medical Center, for a mechanical thrombectomy. Almost immediately, the blood flow returned to his brain and he was able to move his fingers slightly. Randy’s doctor told him to get ready for a long stay at a rehabilitation center.
Vickie asked for prayers from her very large family. In a broadcast text message she asked that people stop, please stop, texting and calling. My sister, Julie, became the pivot point for communications. An uber connected world can be a blessing and a curse. Imagine yourself in a crisis with friends, siblings, nieces, nephews, and parishioners calling, texting, and messaging their concern. Vickie wanted to pull a net tight around her daughters as they processed everything.
The procedure Steve got has been around for about 10 years. His surgeon said that he does them about once a week. “These are the patients that end up with the highest level of disability or death. It can really improve stroke care.”
Randy’s doctor prescribed therapy. He explained that, according to the scans, Randy had been experiencing a series of mini-strokes, and that the damage was done during the night, before he woke up.
Within a few days, Steve stood up. He and his 10 month-old son learned to walk together. Steve is back to work. He didn’t suffer any cognitive delays, although he remained on pain-killers for 15 months.
Within two days of his stroke, determined to return home, Randy showed Vickie how he could walk up stairs. At home, he continued to be disoriented. “I feel like I’m in a foreign country,” he told Vickie on their way to physical therapy. That changed after 3 or 4 trips. Whether it was new memories scored onto his innate navigation abilities, or old memories revitalized, Randy soon began giving Vickie directions.
As a musician, Steve feels like he lost 8 months of practice. He’s back playing guitar around the Chicago area. Randy is back playing the organ at church for the simple, repetitive pieces. He feels like he is learning all over again. Randy still suffers back pain. Experts disagree whether this is from the stroke.
Randy continues emotional, mental and physical struggles. However, he’s got two strong daughters who rose to the occasion. They are busy stacking wood, tilling the garden, and pretty much stepping in wherever Randy needs them. Randy and Vickie have a son, too. He’s in the armed services and is stationed to far away to offer much more than moral support.
I want to be angry with the staff at Randy’s hospital. How could they not recognize he was having a stroke? How could they make him wait more than 12 hours for the MRI? How could they not have access to the same network of expertise and care as Steve? But then, Randy is a whole generation older than Steve, and his recovery is at least as remarkable.
Was it Randy’s sheer determination and will-power that amazed not only his family, but the medical staff? Was it a strong genetic make-up that allowed Randy to heal? Was it a miracle? Was it a multitude of prayer and support? I don’t know. But I can tell you two things for certain.