Surviving a Stroke

Photo from my hospital bed in the Neurological ICU in Murray, Utah

Yup, I had a stroke.  Seriously. 

First, let me take a step back.  About ten years ago, I was about 60 pounds overweight and horribly out of shape.  I told myself that I wanted to be alive for when my girls got married so I went on this big health kick.  I started CrossFit, cut out carbs, cut back my drinking and just started being more healthy.  It worked.  I lost a ton of weight and was in the best shape of my life.  Fast forward today, I consider myself a healthy person. 

  • CrossFit 2-3 times a week
  • Jog 2-3 times a week
  • Training for a half marathon in January
  • Avid skier (35+ days last season)
  • New mountain biker
  • Lots of hikes and walks
  • Low blood pressure
  • Low cholesterol

But, it didn’t matter.   I still had a stroke.  Lesson learned, life is random as fuck. 

It all started out one Saturday morning in November.  I woke up like a normal Saturday but for some reason I had a peculiar headache.  A headache that just felt different.  So much so that I told Sarah, “Honey, I have a strange headache”.  Other than the passing observation, I didn’t think much of it.  I popped two Aleve and headed to CrossFit for my usual Saturday WOD.  It was a partner WOD and I ended up working out with a trainer visiting from Montana.  Super cool dude.  Not a noticeably hard workout but I had been pulling back heavier weights because of strain on my back and joints ahead of the ski season. 

Sunday.  I spend most of the day raking leaves in the yard and taking care of odds and ends.  That evening after we came back home from dinner I crouched down to tie my shoe and my left leg started to feel weird when I got up.  I’m pretty sure whatever was happening to my brain had started  that weekend. I just went to bed thinking I had pushed myself too hard with the yard work all day. 

Monday morning — I was supposed to go to the 5:15am CrossFit WOD like I usually do but I slept right through my alarm.  That’s was odd.  I got up a little later and reached for my phone like I usually do to check on things at work — my right hand and arm just didn’t feel right.  I could not scroll through notifications or type normally.  I kept having to shake my arm out thinking my arm was still asleep.  I got up thinking that it was a transitory issue — got the kids to the school bus and walked the dog.  I went for a jog afterwards since I didn’t make it to the gym.  My right arm felt like it was barely attached appendage on my body.  At that point, I knew something was going on.  Jumped in the shower and really got concerned when I couldn’t button my pants or put my watch on.  I went to reach for a bottle of baby aspirin in the kitchen and could not grip the bottle.  I called Sarah and told her something was up.  She asked me casually, “Could you be having a stroke?”.  How prescient.  I called my dad who is a doctor.  We ran through some basic stroke questions and recommended that I get to the emergency room as soon as possible.  Oh boy, here we go. 

Generally speaking, I tend to be a cool person during a crisis.  I have had to deal with that a lot as part of my job.  So, I was staying cool and could feel the adrenaline start to flow.  It was 9:30am at this point and I have a work meeting with my Vice Presidents to get the week going.  I jumped on the Zoom just to tell them that I was headed to the emergency room — I was shaking my right arm trying to get some feeling back.  Trying to click on my touch pad was like my arm was replaced with a whiffle ball bat.  I just didn’t have any control of it.   I told my staff and they immediately told me get off the Zoom and get going.  My team at work is the best and have been the best since I’ve been going through this.  More specifically, my CEO at work has been absolutely amazing through this.  Probably one of the best CEO’s I’ve had the opportunity to work for.   

Ok, bad decision time.  I went upstairs to grab my shoes.  I couldn’t tie my shoes so I tucked my laces into my socks.  Rather than call 911, I jumped into my car and drove myself to the hospital.  Dumb.  I should have called for an ambulance.  I didn’t have enough control in my right arm to effectively use the touch screen properly. In my head, if something bad happened, I would hit the autopilot button and the car would take me to the rest of the way and maybe I would be some poster boy for autonomous driving.  Haha.  Dumb.  But I did have enough control to find some Christmas music to play while I drove.  So, there I was cruising down the highway driving with my left arm, listening to Bing Crosby’s “White Christmas”, shoe laces tucked into my socks like a homeless man and having a stroke.  I couldn’t help but laugh to myself that this is ridiculous. 

I made it the Park City Hospital Emergency Room.  Hazzah!  This part becomes a bit of blur because it went from listening to “White Christmas” to turbo mode.  I checked myself in and sat down for 1.5 seconds before a group of health care workers came out to help me.  At that point, I was dropping things all over the place because I instinctively hand things to my right hand that effectively stopped working.   I was whisked into the emergency room and I could hear the head nurse say “Move it. We have a stroke.”.  She noticed that I heard her and said to me, “Don’t worry. That is just to get people moving.”

Then, a full battery of tests — blood pressure, temperature, IV, CAT scan #1, CAT scan #2 with some die that almost made me pee my pants, MRI #1, CAT scan #3, blood,  more blood, COVID test, and even more blood. 

Long story short, they found a blood clot on the top of my head and bleeding.  Well, that earned me a ticket on the life flight helicopter to the primary Neurological ICU.  It got super real at that point.  Sarah looked at me and asked me if I wanted to leave a message for the girls.  I’ve never had any brain trauma before so my thoughts went to all the scary stories I’ve read on brain surgery or stroke treatment. 

The helicopter took 8 minutes to get to Park City and it was a quick 8 minute flight over Park City Mountain to get to its destination.  The Canyons side of Park City Mountain has a lift called the “Orange Bubble Express” that I easily identifiable because each chair has an orange shield that riders can pull down on windy days.  It connects the main resort to some epic trails that Brooklyn and I spent a ton of time last season skiing.  The helicopter flew right over the Orange Bubble Express — so low it felt like I could touch the peaks.  I thought to myself, “well, those were good times”.  I won’t lie, the fragility of my own mortality became very real at that point.     

I spent a little less than a week at the hospital with most of that time in the Neurological ICU with the most amazing medical professionals.  I am so grateful for all of them and the care they provided me.  I owe my life to them.  Sarah was at my side through it all.  Both sets of parents flew in to provide support.  Our new Park City Community provided dinners and support.  The messages from friends and family.  All the soup!  It was amazing.  I am truly grateful for it all. 

My doctor told me that I hit the lottery twice.  The first was having this type of stroke at my age.  This type of stroke impacts only 3 out of 1,000,000.  The second was making my way out of the stroke with likely no long term damage.  I’m more grateful for the later.  Haha.  My prognosis is for a full recovery and I’m taking the time now to heal. The brain needs to heal in ways I’ve never really realized.  

So, what higher level observations through all of this?

  • Life is short.  Life is fragile.  Find your joy.
  • I’ve gained a deep  level of Perspective and gratitude.  It’s good to be alive. 
  • Know the signs of a stroke and go immediately to the hospital.
  • Don’t drive yourself to the emergency room regardless if your car can drive you there on its own. 
  • Listen to Bing Crosby’s “White Christmas” during stressful times.

I’m so grateful for my journey through this that I’m going to donate and raise money for the American Stroke Association (a subsidiary of the American Heart Association). Stay tuned for the GoFundMe. I’m also going to see what other creative things I can do to educate of strokes and help those that have had one. Did you know —

  • In 2018, 1 in every 6 deaths from cardiovascular disease was due to stroke.1
  • Someone in the United States has a stroke every 40 seconds. Every 4 minutes, someone dies of stroke.2
  • Every year, more than 795,000 people in the United States have a stroke. About 610,000 of these are first or new strokes.2
  • About 185,000 strokes—nearly 1 of 4—are in people who have had a previous stroke.2
  • About 87% of all strokes are ischemic strokes, in which blood flow to the brain is blocked.2
  • Stroke-related costs in the United States came to nearly $46 billion between 2014 and 2015.2 This total includes the cost of health care services, medicines to treat stroke, and missed days of work.
  • Stroke is a leading cause of serious long-term disability.2 Stroke reduces mobility in more than half of stroke survivors age 65 and over.2
    [reference link]

I’ll provide a follow up post with my recovery.  I can’t think of a better place to heal and reflect than Park City, Utah — for a resurgence going into the second half of my life living life at 1000%!

Thank you all for the support.  Onward and upward!

“Get busy living or get busy dying.” — Stephen King

10 thoughts on “Surviving a Stroke

  1. Wow, this post resonates so much with me. As someone who’s fairly active in recent years, I too find that you having a stroke is so random, because it’s easy for us to think that we’re entitled to good health because of our habits.

    Then yesterday I had a weird headache too, which I’m pretty sure isn’t anything serious. Reading your post has made me think about it more though, lol.

    Anyway, great to hear that you’re recovering, and thanks for the inspiration to live!

    1. Getting old is no joke. Our bodies are not invincible. And why does no one tell us things start to “feel weird” as your body ages? So glad you listened to those weird feelings and got help when you did!

      Let’s take the time to stop and smell the roses ❤️

  2. Sharon S Mosbaugh

    OMG! How did I not know about this? I’m so glad you’re on the road to recovery. Hugs and more hugs coming to all of you!

  3. Goose

    Holy freakin moly, Renato! What an insane experience. I am so grateful that you will come out of this with no long term damage. Thank you for sharing your story and in such a gripping way. I send you my deepest regards and love for a complete recovery!

  4. Jen Fernandes

    ReMasc! (That’s what I’m gonna call you, you’re welcome! 🤪) Coach here, Jen Fernandes (Mia’s mom) to be exact. I heard through the grapevine about you and your resiliency and I’m more inspired than ever. I had to google you and your journey. I’m more inspired than ever. And I happen to be in Park City writing this as we speak. It’s amazing here btw. Keep kicking a** and sharing. You are helping peeps you don’t even know.

  5. Pingback: Goodbye 2021, Hello 2022 – Memory Leak

  6. Pingback: Surviving a Stroke: Returning to Life – Memory Leak

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