It was a warm day in June 2006 when my parents returned to my home in Shirley, MA following my 10 year old daughter’s dance recital. Shortly after they returned, I noticed my father groaning and somewhat slumping on the living room couch.. My mother thought he was just moaning again about his aches and pains as he usually does, but as I approached, I knew something was up. I sternly asked what was wrong and got no response. As I put my hands on my father I soon realized that something was terribly wrong. My EMT training took over as I realized he was suffering from a stroke. After several weeks in Boston, my father was transferred to a rehabilitation hospital, but succumbed a month later after several major strokes. My family and I later learned that he actually suffered numerous small strokes in his life and likely had symptoms but never told anyone.
A year to the day later, I think my dad was sending me a message. I had just been to my family physician, Dr. Katzenberg, for my yearly physical. My "report card" showed my cholesterol level was above 240 and my weight had gone up to 246 pounds. With this news, I knew it was time to drop some weight and work on getting myself back into some sort of shape. It was a warm June day, the same as a year earlier. And this time I was heading back from summer camp with my son AJ and my daughter Cailey to meet my wife who was coaching basketball in Groton. Both of my kids were in the back seat yelling at each other about something. We were driving up Route 119 when all went quiet in the back seat, or so it seemed to me. For about 20 or 30 seconds, I couldn’t hear the screaming coming from the back of the car anymore, but it wasn’t because my kids had stopped yelling. Only a minute from the basketball gym, my hearing slowly returned as I pulled up onto the school roadway. When I arrived at the athletic center, the kids got out of the car and ran to the gymnasium. I got out of the car and noticed that my right arm had fallen asleep. I thought it was the long ride from Brookline, Mass. I tried to shake my arm and squeeze my hand to get the blood flow back. This however felt a bit more different than when my arm or leg had ever fallen asleep in the past. As my kids ran through the doors and inside toward the gymnasium, I tried to reach and open the gym door with my right hand, but I didn't know that it was my hand reaching for the door.
I could barely feel my fingers touching the door handle. I thought to myself…. if my hand and arm are asleep, I should have gotten the feeling and blood flow back by now. At this point, being an Athletic Trainer and an Emergency Medical Technician, I suspected something was up, but I thought to myself “could I really be having a stroke?” No, that can’t be. I am only 42. How many 42 year olds have strokes? I was telling myself it had to be something else. Still in some denial that anything serious was wrong, I briefly spoke to my wife during a break in her basketball practice to find out what we wanted to orderfor dinner. Nonchalantly, but still concerned about my arm, I told my wife that I was feeling kind of funny and that I might give Dr. Katzenberg’s office a call, but I was hoping - even praying at this point - that it would clear up soon. My gut still told me to go to emergency room to get checked, though I had no other signs or symptoms but my arm. I went down to the court and told my wife. "Ok,” she said. “I’ll bring your food home.”
"Ok," I said to her. "See you in a few hours". Again, I figured it would be nothing and I would be in and out of there in no time.
So, doing what every doctor recommends you DON’T do when you suspect something serious could be wrong with you, I decided to drive myself down to the emergency room at Nashoba Valley instead of calling for an ambulance. At the emergency room, I explained my hearing loss and numbness in my arm to the nurse and then to Dr. Balser, still hoping that they would check me over and find nothing, and I would soon be able to leave. "Have you ever had a stroke Frank?" asked Dr. Balser. No, doc, but my dad passed away of a stroke. I later learned that my dad actually suffered numerous small strokes and likely had symptoms similar to mine.
After a CT scan was negative, I was feeling pretty good and thought that maybe I would be going home very soon, but Dr. Balser thought it would be best for me to get an MRI. Although reluctant to go into Boston for an MRI, I did agree and told him I will call my wife and ask her to come and take me to Boston. "No Frank," the doctor said. "We have an ambulance coming to take you in town". After they started an IV and re-evaluated me I was sent to Boston by ambulance. I kept asking myself was this really happening to me. After numerous tests and lab work everything finally hit home when the MRI confirmed that I actually suffered a stroke at the age of 42. The news did not get any better during my stay at the hospital when doctors found a hole in my heart(PFO - Patent foramen ovale). For me, this was a wake-up call. I know my dad died of a second massive stroke. I also know the risk of having a second stroke increases significantly after you have the first one.
Shortly after my discharge from the hospital, I decided to officially sign up to run the ½ marathon for the American Stroke Association. With on-going training and conditioning from a running coach with the American Stroke Association, I not only improved my overall health, but ended up running the full 26.2 mile marathon instead on January 13, 2008. Although 5 hours and 9 minutes was not what I was hoping for, I crossed the finish line in hot and humid conditions with lots of mixed emotions. Less than two weeks later, I was laying in the operating room waiting to have the hole in my heart repaired. Although I was only permitted to walk after my surgery, I was cleared to start running again 6 weeks later.
Today, my cholesterol has dropped low enough that I don’t require any medication to control it and I have lost over 70 pounds since my stroke. I continue to run between 40 and 50 miles a week. I continue to run for all those people that stroke has been devastating to; those who can’t walk or talk or those who have passed away.