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Learning from Luke Perry

A Survivor’s Advice on How to Recover From a Massive Stroke

Strokes are on the national radar now — as a terrible medical condition that changes a person’s life forever. The latest tragic loss was one of America’s household names, the actor Luke Perry, heartthrob on the 1990s’ television smash “Beverly Hills 90210.” 

Perry died from a massive stroke at the age of just 52, which makes his loss all the more shocking. In fact, nearly a fourth of those who suffer from strokes are under the age of 65, and between 10% and 15% of those who suffer from stroke are 45 or younger. And some studies indicate the rate of stroke among those under the age of 49 could be increasing. Yet despite all the recent coverage on strokes and related medical situations, and despite advances in modern medicine, we still don’t always know enough — and strokes can be devastating. After I suffered from a massive ischemic stroke myself fourteen years ago, I had to rebuild my entire life. I learned just what it takes not just to survive, but recover:

1.      Learn BE FAST. Learn the stroke signs of BE FAST, and teach them to your loved ones. They could save your life, or someone else’s:

       B – Balance: Is the person suddenly having trouble with balance or coordination?

       E – Eyesight: Is the person experiencing suddenly blurred or double vision or a sudden loss of vision in one or both eyes?

       F – Face Drooping: Ask the person to smile. Is one or are both sides of the face drooping?

       A – Arm Weakness: Ask the person to raise both arms. Does one side drift downward? Is there weakness or numbness on one side?

       S – Speech Difficulty: Does the person have slurred or garbled speech? Can he/she repeat simple phrases?

       T – Time: Call 911 for immediate medical attention if you notice one or more of these signs. 

2.      Ask questions.After the stroke, in whatever way you can, ask a ton of questions or have your loved one, caregiver, or your family to ask questions for you about your medical situation, your lifestyle, and daily living concerns to your general doctor, neurologists, nurses, your therapists, and your work colleagues. 

3.      Teach Yourself. Educate yourself about strokes and all the terminology related to them, such as ischemic or hemorrhagic strokes, aphasia, and TBI’s (traumatic brain injuries). Following my massive stroke, I had to figure out on what it was I had, its impact on me, how close I came to dying, how to recover, and what I had lost. I educated myself about stroke, seizures and aphasia. The more you know, the more you can do to help yourself or a loved one.

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4.      Speak up. Spread awareness to other people about your own experience with strokes. It’s critical for us to act as messengers, and speak up about strokes. It is remarkable that so many are unaware, so take it upon yourself to explain to people what stroke is and how deadly it is not just for older people, but for any age of the population.

5.      Be positive. Recovery takes determination, and healing requires determination and focus. Have a positive mindset, maintain a sense of hope and have faith that you will be able to recover. But even as you push to overcome your limitations, you may also have to accept them. After my stroke, I had to become all right with understanding how it redefined my life.  

6.      Engage your brain. Read books, and change it up once in a while. If you only read how-to books, read mysteries. Read biographies, histories, fiction, self-improvement books. Keep your brain occupied. 

7.      Live healthfully. Make sure to eat a proper diet, get plenty of exercise, and live a healthy lifestyle. No matter how the stroke has affected your body, take care of yourself.  

8.      Control the risks. Whether you have suffered from a stroke or now, you need to know your risk factors. Many of the common risks factors can be controlled, including:

  • Blood Pressure
  • Diabetes
  • Heart Disease
  • Unhealthy cholesterol levels
  • Abnormal heart rhythm (atrial fibrillation or AFib)
  • Alcohol and illegal drug use
  • Lack of physical activity
  • Being overweight or obese
  • Stress and depression

9.      Learn your history. Genetics can also play a big role in your risk for a stroke or for a recurring one. Learn everything you can about your family history. 

Every week, I spend time with stroke survivors, people with aphasia, caregivers, loved ones and speech language pathologists. I talk to medical neurologists about strokes and aphasia. But more often, I am the one being asked the questions — such as how I dealt with certain setbacks or conditions, what worked for me, what didn’t. I always talk about the need to have determination, resiliency, tenacity and persistence. You can’t give up. 

I beat the odds in terms of mobility: no one expected me to recover so fully. I’m still recuperating from aphasia, though I am progressing markedly. And I’m sharing this now because I’m a survivor, a teacher, and an ambassador for stroke survivors and people with aphasia. Unforeseen change can leave us all feeling lost. But education and awareness can put us on the right direction. And someday, we will see the medical breakthroughs that prevent strokes from taking lives. But until then, I am living proof that you can survive and stroke and aphasia, and thrive.  Live for today and the present, learn what you can from the past, and have hope for the future.

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