World Stroke Day: A Survivor's Perspective

Eric Sarno is a stroke survivor, father, triathlete and passionate stroke advocate. He wrote the article below for World Stroke Day.


Stroke survivor Eric Sarno completed a triathlon two years after his stroke.Madison, Wisconsin - October 29 is World Stroke Day. According to the World Health Organization, stroke is the leading cause of death for people above the age of 60 and the fifth-leading cause in people aged 15-59, as well as a leading cause of disability and the number two cause of death, globally.


As a stroke survivor I feel it is important to be aware of some aspects of stroke. Living a healthy lifestyle with good eating habits and knowing your blood pressure can help reduce stroke and its effects. 


My stroke happened at the age of 37. I was an otherwise healthy and active person, so many may not think I was at risk for stroke. But if you or someone you know has had a stroke, then you know that stroke is different for every individual. Imagine 100 stroke survivors and you will learn 100 different stories. 


Like an iceberg, what you see on the surface is only part of a stroke survivor's story or deficits. Much of the stroke's affect lies beneath what you can easily see or hear. There are often deeper challenges for many survivors such as cognitive, emotional and fatigue-related issues. Other struggles include maintaining dignity and rebuilding relationships with friends, spouses, children, significant others and colleagues.


As a stroke survivor and the friend of many other survivors, I feel there are consistent themes to help in stroke recovery.

  • First, stroke survivors appreciate validation. While stroke recovery is very challenging and the deficits are numerous, many survivors appreciate when people recognize their deficits instead of dismissing or minimizing them. It may seem like survivors would prefer only uplifting and positive comments, but sometimes it's okay to just acknowledge the challenges and help them handle their new reality.
  • Next, stroke survivors are stubborn and resilient, and that is good but can be difficult for friends and caregivers. They need that strength to move forward.
  • Third, it is helpful if stroke survivors are able to define or asked to define what their recovery means. Recovery may be different from the perspective of a doctor, therapist, nurse, caregiver, family or friend. 

As an example, I was a competitive athlete and father of two little girls. I wasn't able to walk or move or read or write but almost immediately I defined my recovery as being able to hug my 5-year-old and 7-year-old daughters, which I was eventually able to do.  Recovery evolved over time for me and today I am fortunate in many ways. I hug my daughters as often as I can, because I can, which becomes "annoying" for them at times now, that they are 12 and 14.


Finally, stroke survivors need to find things they used to enjoy, such as smells, sights and things to touch or hold. What personality characteristics made the survivor unique? Caregivers and friends can encourage those traits and help the survivor rediscover them.


UW Health provided much of my care and I continue to see my world-class medical professionals. I am happy and honored to know that the University of Wisconsin has been recognized as one of a few Comprehensive Stroke Centers in the U.S. and it's in our backyard, here in Madison, Wisconsin. Clearly, the patient centered care I experience will always be a goal at UW Health and will continue to grow.


As I think about October 29 being recognized as World Stroke Day, I think of all the people around the planet that have been affected by stoke and are yet to be affected. There is much to be done. There are many gaps in treatment, rehab, policies, research and insurance coverage related to stroke. Knowing this, being aware of the challenges, is not good enough. But it truly is a step that all of us can take to keep moving towards better outcomes and lives for stroke survivors and their families.

Date Published: 10/29/2013

News tag(s):  stroke

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