Stroke changed the life of 10 year old forever – but there is always hope for improvement in any situation

Published 8:08 pm Thursday, June 29, 2006

I don’t like to use this space for stories of a more personal nature too often because, well, they are just that — personal. Too often people are out to get sympathy with their stories, or, they want preferential treatment. Both of those go against the grain of this Editor. Still, there are times when the story can serve a greater purpose by helping others who may be going through difficult circumstances.

For those of you who may not know me that well, about 46 years ago at age 10 the world turned upside down when a cerebral hemorrhage or aneurysm — commonly referred to as a stroke — interrupted a lazy, hot afternoon of play in July. Three of us buddies were getting ready to spend the rest of the day shooting fireworks in an empty field down South Shivers Street. After lunch we trooped to the field with our bags of firecrackers, visions of imaginary battles or feats of daring running through our heads.

As I rummaged through my bag of ’crackers I suddenly found myself falling to the ground as the invisible, silent blood vessel in my brain gave way. The only thing I remember when it happened, as my right leg buckled and consciousness slipped away, was asking my friends to help me get back up. I was told later the mother of one of those friends carried me out of the field to their house.

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A little over a month later, I began to be aware of the world again from a hospital bed at University Medical Center in Jackson where I would spend several more weeks in treatment, including one major operation. My memories from that time are mostly of many unpleasant spinal taps under local anesthetic to relieve fluid pressure buildup.

Sometime in September I came home from the hospital, with a different perspective on the physical world. My right leg and arm were paralyzed, useless, and, for a young boy who was used to doing all the things boys do, the change was monumental. In hindsight, physically and emotionally, I was unable to handle the world with my former spirit and nerve and therefore shrunk inward, building mental walls in a vain attempt to hide.

Love — that of my family, and the respect that this town had for us — eventually conquered and scaled those walls, but physically the damage was never completely overcome. This day and age with prompt intervention, many stroke victims are able to recover much of their mobility and dexterity. For people with long-term effects from those events, problems still remain, yet technological and medical advances are now even helping some of those — including myself.

It is here that our story picks up again. Recently, a story out of the Methodist Rehabilitation Center in Jackson told of a new device, the SaeboFlex orthosis, that shows promise for people with both short and long-term effects from strokes.

In the past, people living with the effects of paralysis from stroke and other illnesses were limited in the help they could get in recovering the use of affected limbs. Having fallen into that latter category, I had become accustomed to living with the disability and had adapted my life to it, and, after awhile, saw no reason to change anything. But, change is still possible, and with a little more of that love I mentioned earlier, I decided to investigate the possibilities of this device.

After 12 weeks of physical therapy a couple of days each week plus sessions at home, I must say a change has occurred. While the dexterity of old has not returned, and more than likely will not — 45 years is a long time to overcome — there is now a difference. I now feel I have two arms and hands. Before, in deference to the disability, I used to jokingly say I had one and a half arms.

The point of this personal story is that people should never give up in striving to improve, and that in learning to adapt to their situation, never think they have reached a plateau where nothing more can be achieved. While plateaus and stopping points do happen, there is always the possibility something will change for the better. Always be on the lookout for and be open to those possibilities, because if you quit looking you may just miss a golden opportunity.