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Carol S.

April 18, 2015

I am ... A Caregiver or Family Member

With May being National Stroke Awareness Month and with my brother’s permission, I would like to share his stroke survival story. Strokes just don’t affect one person; they shake entire families to their core and completely alter lives.

On March 25, 2013, at the age of 34, Christopher G.'s life totally changed. He was chatting with coworkers after lunch when he suddenly developed the hiccups, sent out a few garbled emails and lost mobility on his left side. Luckily, his boss recognized the warning signs of a stroke and dialed 911.

Chris was flown from his hospital in Panama City, FL, to the University of Alabama Medical Center (UAB) in Birmingham, AL.  Despite having a previous blood clot in his leg, everyone was shocked that such a young, healthy person would suffer a massive stroke. Chris had a blood clot at the base of his brain that required immediate surgery; the doctors, nurses and staff at UAB were simply amazing and they saved my brother’s life.  

My parents rushed from Niceville, FL, up to UAB on March 25 and spent the next 53 days with my brother.  My husband and I arrived the following day. We watched as Chris underwent sessions in the hyperbaric chamber, intense physical and speech therapy sessions and painful medical procedures. Doctors determined that Chris had a blood disorder called anti-phospholipid lupus syndrome and worked to figure out a blood-clotting management strategy.

Despite the outpouring of love from family and friends, Chris was still struggling to come to terms with what had happened to him. He was a strong man who was now unable to walk.  He was an intelligent man who now struggled to do basic word and math problems. He was also a fiercely proud man who felt he now had a “broken” body.

At the age of 34, my brother had been through more than some folks have in a lifetime.  In 2003, he deployed in Support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. In 2009, his girlfriend, Jenn, was killed in a tragic motorcycle accident; and then, four years later, he suffers a stroke and almost dies.

Chris is now 36 and living back in Panama City, FL. Although he hasn’t been able to return to his previous career, he does volunteer work and he is able to walk with a cane. With some modifications to his Jeep, he is now able to drive.  He continues his physical therapy sessions and pursues advanced neurological treatments. He also fears he will have another stroke.

There is so much more to his story. Chris is my only sibling and I am so very proud of him. I pray that one day Chris will regain full use of his left side (he is left handed) and enjoy running or rock climbing again. I also pray that he will find the love and happiness that he deserves. I also hope more folks become aware of the warning signs of a stroke. It might just save a life.

(The photo I submitted shows our family in August 2014. Front row: Xander (dog) and Barry, Rosemary and Chris G. Back row:Carol and Billy Swinson)

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