Lee Stroy, a father of five, was looking forward to hosting his extended family for Christmas in 2014. Amidst the clamor of preparations for their arrival, 37-year-old Lee woke up on December 23rd with a serious numbness on his left side, as if he hadn’t slept on it properly.
He attempted to get up, but his foot kept slipping from underneath him. He struggled to make his way to the stairs, and after what felt like 20 minutes of incoherent mumbling, Lee was finally able to get his wife’s attention. “When she turned around and looked at me—the look on her face… I just burst into tears. I had no idea what was going on, but I just knew something bad was happening, because the way she looked—in fifteen years I’d never seen her look at me like that, and the first thing she said was, ‘Call 911!'”
Lee felt better when the ambulance arrived. He was coherent and his slurred speech had gone back to normal. But after a blood pressure read of 190/120, the paramedics decided to transport him to the hospital. While in the emergency room, Lee’s symptoms returned and then left once again. He later discovered that this “waxing and waning” is the effect of focal neurological deficits. An MRI and a CAT scan later, Lee was diagnosed with a stroke.
“I had no idea—never knowing what a stroke was—that I had family members that had strokes, and I automatically assumed it was because they were older,” Lee recounts. His maternal grandmother suffered several strokes. Lee would go on to discover that other factors exacerbated his already genetic predisposition for stroke as well: his high blood pressure, smoking, stress, and eventual diagnosis of high cholesterol and diabetes. Oddly enough, Lee’s doctor had prescribed him blood pressure medication the week before his stroke, but Lee decided not to start taking it until after the holidays—in his mind, he wanted to enjoy the food that accompanies that time of year without constraint.
Lee was cleared to leave the hospital on Christmas Day. Christmas morning came and Lee once again woke up confused and symptomatic, with limited mobility, severe facial drooping, and slurred speech. His release was hampered by yet another stroke. After the doctors stabilized his blood pressure, his wife rushed him off to Mt. Vernon rehabilitation center, where he spent three weeks in recovery. He experienced his third and final stroke while there. Lee was unable to comprehend the extent of what had occurred—his ultimate goal was to return home to support his family.
When he did return home, everything was different. Lee couldn’t drive. He went from earning a salary to earning nothing. He took nine pills a day to level his blood pressure and the other ailments he was diagnosed with, including anxiety, depression, insomnia, and PTSD. He attended physical and occupational therapy three times a week. Lee found that he was hypersensitive to the piercing laughter of his children and stimulants like bright lights. “Home,” he says “wasn’t home.” Lee was in denial for a long time about his strokes—convinced he could do certain activities when he couldn’t, resisting internally the time it would inevitably take for his brain to regenerate. A year and a half of physical therapy and diet changes produced minimal results and after being admitted to the hospital over ten times, Lee was left frustrated—still unable to comprehend the reason behind the extent of his recovery.
Lee’s life changed during a follow-up visit with his Neurologist. During the visit, his Neurologist asked him if he knew what a stroke was. Lee began to give the standard textbook response. The Neurologist stopped Lee mid-sentence and told him that he had damage to his brain and that his life would not be the same. Something took over Lee at that very moment. He realized there was an opportunity to create a new life for himself. He had asked himself over a million times, WHY me? He finally got the answer why not me?? Lee began to accept the unexpected and became accustomed to being uncomfortable. He went through a variety of medications, different diets, and exercise routines. He read over 25 books and to this day he revisits a few of his go to books to as he says recharge his battery. His life was a constant reset, rewind until he realized that his recovery was an ongoing process. It’s a marathon, not a sprint.
Slowly, Lee’s mobility and positive thinking became more consistent. Throughout his recovery, Lee met amazing people from the medical industry and other stroke survivors. He spoke at several seminars and discovered that speaking about his journey helped his on-going recovery, but also helped and inspired others. Lee began a non-profit and devoted himself to spreading awareness about stroke prevention and recovery with life, love, and hope.
While everyone’s journey through stroke recovery is different, there are certain things that remain the same; for everyone, healing is a process that takes time. “I can’t tell you to ‘Come on this time,’ to ‘Get up and walk!’ You know? Just like you can’t tell someone how to grieve,” Lee notes. For him, working with people and helping them through their own prevention or recovery is therapeutic. “I’m embracing where I am right now with my recovery,” he says, “and if I can help others, that’s exactly what I want to do. The best is yet to come.”