It was early in the morning, September 2011. Kirk Disrude went to reach for a shirt in his closet and felt a sharp pain, "like a rubber band snapping" in his brain. As the room spun around him, he lost his balance and fell. He called for his wife Beth, and that’s the last memory he can conjure up … until he "woke up" in the hospital three days later.
"For two and a half days, he was extremely dizzy. If he even tried to move, he’d throw up," Beth said. "And he wasn’t coherent, wasn’t absorbing what was happening around him. Then, all of a sudden, it was like someone turned the light switch back on. He looked at me, and said ‘what’s going on?’ I literally said, ‘where have you been?’ He had no recollection of what had happened over the previous three days, but he was back."
Doctors told the Disrudes that Kirk had suffered a stroke, caused by an undiagnosed congenital heart defect. It was shocking news for the 38-year-old PE teacher, who had been an athlete all his life, and was in great shape. Giving themselves just enough time to absorb the news and deal with the shock, they promptly began working on his recovery
"From that first day in the hospital, I established a no-crying rule," Beth said. "Kirk is strong, and he’ll fight through this. So if anyone felt weak, or needed to cry, they needed to step out, and not do it in front of him. Once we had the diagnosis, it was time to hit the ground running. Get him to stand, to walk, to comprehend what had happened. He had to relearn everything, even how to eat. But he would do it."
Beth and Kirk were laser-focused on his recovery, and in just three months, he no longer required onsite physical rehabilitation. He kept it up on his own, at home, with Beth’s help, along with speech therapy. It was hard work, but they were determined to get Kirk as healthy as possible…as quickly as possible. After all, their first son was due soon. Beth had been 20 weeks pregnant when this all started!
"If you have a stroke, the recovery is up to you, how hard you work to get back to normal. Every stroke is different, but if you get treated right away, and work really hard at rehab, you can have as normal of a life as you want to obtain. Knowing that my wife saved my life, I owed it to her to get healthy. I lost my father at a young age, and knowing what that’s like, I wanted to work as hard as I could to be here for my kids, as long as I can. I had every reason to do it, and no reason not to."
Despite their determination, some effects from the stroke aren’t fixable. Damage to the brain affects more than just physical ability. It also can affect a person’s emotional stability or their personality, which can change the nature of relationships with loved ones. Beth said they are still adjusting to their "new normal." But their love for each other and their support system (which includes seeing a psychiatrist specializing in traumatic brain injuries) has helped them continue their full, happy life…a life that includes two boys, full-time careers, and, oh yeah, running marathons.
To learn more about stroke warning signs and symptoms click here.
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