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Dan H.


Running for Life

How I went from a marathon aspirant to stroke survivor in a matter of minutes

Two years ago I set myself on a mission of self improvement. Classified by my BMI as "Morbidly obese", carrying 285lbs on my 6' frame, I was on 3 blood pressure medicines and looking at a fourth, and bloodwork showed me on a path of high cholesterol. I couldn't pass the physical that would allow me to participate in the activities for my son's Scout troop. Seeing this path of self destruction as leading to basically one ultimate destination. I pledged myself to a journey of self improvement. I started with Nintendo's Wii Fit, through which I shed 25 lbs in approx. 2 months. I began jogging -1 mile turned into 2 and turned into 3. I entered my first 5k in September of 2009. I continued to lose weight through continued running 3 to 4 times a week. In the last 2 years I competed in a total of 4 5k's a 10k a 10 miler and a half marathon. I dropped 85 pounds, brought my blood pressure low enough that my doctor pulled me off of all of my blood pressure meds. I had my sights set on running in the Marine Corps Marathon at the end of October 2011. That goal was to be unexpected unrealized, considering the events of August 14th, 2011.

August 14th started as a sunny Sunday morning rehearsal with the praise band at my church for which I'm the drummer. We had just concluded a song when everyone but me noticed that my right hand continued to beat out a sixteenth note pattern on the drumset. Confused, the band director said, "Dan, the song's finished." That of course prompted everyone to tun and look at me, which prompted a question from the piano player, Danita, "Dan what's wrong?" "I'm fine," I replied. Not knowing that I really couldn't have been farther from the truth. Clearly alarmed, Danita said, "But honey, you're drooling!" Swiping at my chin I realized she was telling the truth. I was a mess. About this time, I realized I'd dropped my left stick. Looking down I spotted it and found that I could not seem to make my left hand reach nor grab the stick. Additionally, I found myself listing seriously to the left, in danger of falling off my drummer's "throne". A pair of strong hands grabbed me from behind to keep me from a nasty tumble. I was aware by now that someone was actively and excitedly talking to the paramedics, I remember the words "stroke" "unbalanced" and "Yes, he's conscious and answering questions." Over the next half hour I slipped in and out of consciousness, confused as to what was happening to me. Stroke was the furthest thing from my mind... after all, I was in the best shape of my life having lost 85 pounds and doing all this running! The paramedics rushed me off to the hospital where I was given a CT scan, administered tPA and thus began my road to recovery. I only spent one night in Howard County General and was transferred the next day to Johns Hopkins Bayview Neuro Science Unit. It was there where it was explained to me that I had survived an ischemic Cerebral Vascular attack (stroke). My first question was to God: "Why? And in Your house? Why?" I felt a peace surround me which seemed to convey, "Be still, it will be well."  And it has been.

I began my inpatient rehab at Hopkins on 22 August. During that time I regained a lot of shoulder mobility, some hand movement, and I learned how to ambulate with a quad base cane. I have been in home therapy and now outpatient therapy since the 21st September and have transitioned to a single point cane. I continue to improve my gait with an eye towards running again within the next six months with the help of my excellent therapists and faith in God. I will get there. I continue making progress with my left arm and hand, giving me encouragement that I'll be drumming for the praise band again soon. I'm looking at a return to work within the next couple of months, also very exciting.

Could I have done more to prevent this? Perhaps - an earlier effort at getting into shape and get my health under control could have possibly helped. Certainly my late efforts have sped my recovery and possibly shortened that timeline. My faith in God remains strong, and I am convinced that by celebrating return of functionality as "little victories" that I will get to the finish line of this, the most arduous race I've ever run. Fortunately, God has seen fit to bless me with these little victories nearly every day. Sometimes I have to look hard for them, but they're there.

I thank God daily that the stroke wasn't more severe, left my cognitive abilities intact (near as I or anyone else can assess) and that my physical recovery has been as steady as I could hope it to be. I also thank him for the skilled doctors, nurses, and therapists whom have expertly guided me through my therapy and continue to provide the positive encouragement to see my goals through. Most of all I thank God for my wife and virtual army of friends, church volunteers, prayer warriors and supporters whom have done as much to speed my recovery as anyone.


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Display of the Faces of Stroke stories does not imply National Stroke Association's endorsement of any product, treatment, service or entity. National Stroke Association strongly recommends that people ask a healthcare professional about diagnosis and treatment questions before using any product, treatment or service. The views expressed through the stories reflect those of the authors and do not reflect the opinion of National Stroke Association.

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