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April's Garden - Stroke Awareness Month and My Son

Welcome to our first April’s Garden blog. It’s going to be different from future blogs as this one is something of a public service announcement rather than about silk floral arrangements and decorating.

May is Stroke Awareness Month. I wanted to share this story as stroke has profoundly touched my life. My son Drew, at age 32, suffered a massive stroke 7 years ago. He was a rugged ice hockey player from the age of 6 who never missed a game for injury or illness. He loved his job and co-workers at Ryan Homes where he was an award-winning production manager. Drew was a perpetual motion machine who adored his family and his girlfriend Kate. His life changed dramatically with one tiny blood clot.

The stroke occurred as he was driving home from work. The angels were with him that day. His strength of will enabled him to pull over into a parking lot. An alert, caring shop owner called the police when he saw Drew slumped over. The responding officer had miraculously gone to the police academy with his sister and contacted her immediately. We rushed into the emergency room to hear the words “massive stroke”. One’s mind doesn’t comprehend it. I saw my son lying there unconscious, unable to move or speak. The decision to administer the miracle clot-busting drug, Tpa, and then the transfer to Jefferson Neuroscience Hospital in Philadelphia remain a blur. The next morning, as his brain continued to swell, a brilliant neurosurgeon performed surgery and saved his life.

But that is only the beginning of the journey. The real work was about to begin. The stroke took away Drew’s ability to walk, use his right side and cruelest of all, his ability to speak. My son, who never stopped  talking or moving, now had to re- learn every life skill he had known. The challenges seemed overwhelming. Yet he never flinched.  Not through the days, then years of intensive physical, speech and occupational therapy at Magee Rehab hospital, then at Bancroft Neuro-Rehab where he still attends. Not through the frustration and tears when he couldn’t say the simplest of words let alone sentences. His speech is still severely limited and his greatest source of frustration. Not through the lonely moments when he realized he would never again know a life free of pain and struggle. Yet, he was determined to create a new life for himself. It would be different from the one he had known but productive and filled with happiness just the same.

And Drew did create that new life. Over much time, he learned to walk again with the help of a brace and cane. He learned to drive again with the help of adaptive devices. The freedom of mobility and independence brought back a sense of normalcy to him. He could never return to the job he loved, so he started his own company and is now building houses on his own. And most importantly, he proudly married Kate, the indomitable woman who stood beside him through it all and never flinched either. They built a home and joyfully welcomed twin daughters a year ago. They are my heroes.

As I watch my beautiful granddaughters’ faces light up as they call him “Da-Da”, I feel profoundly grateful to all the people who supported us along this journey and to the Lord for saving my son. Words could never express to his therapists, especially Michelle, Scott and Joan, just how thankful we are to them. They saw Drew’s determination and worked as hard as he did for every small victory. Drew is a little dinged up. But that’s just fine.

Check out the links to learn more about strokes and its symptoms. Check out F.A.S.T and know that time is brain with strokes. Every second counts.

And to any of you out there who know firsthand how devastating a stroke can be, cheers to you. Don’t give up. Ever.