This article first appeared in The Challenger Newspaper.
Thank you Sunrise Hospital for Making a Difference!
I had a massive stroke when I was ten years old. I was living in Ohio and came to Las Vegas with my family. The trip was supposed to be 3 days, but I got home nearly 3 months later. This is my story of how I overcame many challenges over the last fifteen years so I could live a "normal" life again.
Before my stroke I was active, outgoing, and had lots of friends. I loved school and was in the gifted program. On the first day in Las Vegas I wasn't feeling well. My mom and I stayed back at the hotel while the others went to Zion National Park.
Shortly after they left, I had my stroke. I ended up in the Intensive Care Unit and couldn't talk, read, write, or even understand. My entire right side was paralyzed. I couldn't walk and even swallowing food was hard. I had some seizures. I had to have two brain surgeries because of a vascular problem that caused my stroke. Once I stabilized, the hard work of rehab began.
After nearly 3 months of rehab, I was finally able to go back to school. I was so excited! But, most of the teachers and my friends didn't really understand what I was going through. I was now in a wheelchair and couldn't talk due to my aphasia. Aphasia is the disability that affected my speaking, reading, and even writing. Aphasia does not affect intellect. I was so frustrated. Everyone treated me differently. I felt lonely, sad, and really angry. I knew inside that I had to fight to get better.
I progressed in rehab. I learned how to use my left hand for everything — I'd been right handed. I went from the wheelchair, to walker, to cane, to walking by myself. My aphasia was my biggest problem. I went to lots of speech therapy and my mom worked with me and she hired others to help me too. Finally, I was able to talk again – starting with just single words.
It's now been 15 years since my stroke. I am now 25. I've had years and years of speech therapy and can now speak quite well. I can read and write again. I'm walking. Things aren't as easy as before, but I live independently and strive to live a "normal" life.
I will never give up. I still go to rehab in Henderson, NV where my family has moved. I attend a stroke support group and joined in an aquatic swim class for survivors. I work out at the gym.
My hobbies are going to the movies, playing the Nintendo Wii as part of my therapy, and traveling. My family even organized a stroke cruise a few years ago. I went on a trip to Europe this past year by myself. For me, traveling is a good way to challenge myself and enjoy life again.
I'd like to share my thoughts on achieving goals. Stimulating the mind is important. I had lots of therapy. I was not allowed to sit in front of the TV all day. I kept busy with learning how to grow a garden, learning to watercolor paint, use educational games on the computer and more. I believe it is impossible to recover by lying in your bed all day as you won't accomplish anything. You have to make an effort.
It is very hard work to be faced with a disability and rehab. Everything changes. It affects you emotionally, physically, and your goals can change. Coping with this new disability is rough and it affects the people who love you too. But, eventually you will get it. Patience is important, very important.
I couldn't even talk, play soccer, or even hang out with my friends. My life had totally changed. Sometimes, I felt sad and even angry. I think it is normal to show your emotions as it is part of the healing process.
I think having faith is crucial too. You have to believe that you will get better. It takes a strong desire to recover and work hard on it so you can. There are many obstacles, but you have to believe you can face them to overcome them.
I often had failed attempts at things I tried. But, I tried again and again. When you put your mind to it, you can go far. I think it is important to focus on what I can do, not on what I cannot. I still have some paralysis on my right side with my hand, ankle, and toes. I can drive and I walk without a cane. I talk, read, and write again. It isn't as easy as before.
No two strokes are alike. No two recoveries will be the same. But we all must find the motivation and courage to keep trying. There will be times you want to quit. But, you must fight to overcome the down days. You have to do what needs to be done whether you feel like it or not.
My goals have changed. I wanted to be a doctor like my dad. I think I would have been a great doctor. But, I can still help people. I want to encourage and help others with stroke and aphasia. I can still make a difference. My stroke can't take that away from me.David Dow's Mom Says Thanks