Faces of Loudoun: A Near-Fatal Stroke Can Give You Perspective on Life

In 2002, I was 42 years old. I owned an auto repair shop and raced cars as a hobby. I was at my favorite racetrack in Watkins Glen, N.Y. I was in the lead with just one lap to go when I hit a rock and spun around. I hit the wall at 120 mph. After the accident, the racetrack doctor examined me and declared I was fine. So, I went home and back to work.

But, I wasn’t all right. Two weeks after the crash, I was on vacation in California with my wife and two daughters. I got up that first morning, showered, and started to put my shirt on. But, I couldn’t. I called my wife to come help me with the buttons. But all she heard was gibberish. And she saw that I was standing at a 45-degree angle, although I would swear I was standing perfectly upright. As I would discover later, I had severed my carotid artery in the crash, and it had been leaking all this time. Now, I was having a stroke.

My wife called the ambulance and they rushed me to the Bob Hope Hospital, where one of the doctors—a renowned stroke specialist—said he needed to put stints in my head or I would die. So they put three in my brain and one in my neck. It was experimental medicine, he said, but it was my only chance.

After the surgery, three of the four stints failed. A doctor told my wife that there was no hope for me. But, against all odds, I was still alive the next day. The doctor then said I would be a vegetable the rest of my life. No husband or wife in Loudoun should have to face a lifetime of nursing a spouse without spirit.

The Next Chapter

            Three days later, I woke up from my coma. Everything on the right side of my body was dead, but I was alive and alert. I was in the hospital in California for two weeks, and then I was in rehab back at home for the next eight months. I had to restore function to my leg and then my arm. I had to relearn how to talk, eat and dress myself. I had to work at it all day every day. All in all, it took a full three years before I was functioning again. Today, I have recovered about 80 percent of my physical and mental capabilities.

Along the way, I wanted to get back to a productive life and a normal routine, so my wife found a local charity that helps disabled people find jobs. They found me a position at the Department of Transportation, where I use my previous experience as an auto mechanic to help people who are dealing with automotive recalls and accidents. It has been a phenomenal experience to go back to work.

I feel very lucky to have survived that crash all those years ago and to have made it to a California hospital where an experimental treatment was available. I cherish every day with my wife and daughters, and I do still love going to the racetrack—although now I sit in the grandstand rather than the driver’s seat. And I love the fact that I can go to work every day and make a difference for those who come looking for help. I am profoundly grateful to the Loudoun nonprofit that found me this job. I hope that we can all find our own way to help End the Need in Loudoun.

As part of the Community Foundation’s Faces of Loudoun campaign, Loudoun Now is publishing monthly articles highlighting men, women and children who have found a helping hand when they needed it most. Learn more or donate to help End the Need at FacesofLoudoun.org.

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