Johnson, who is 80, was a math and physics graduate of Florida State. He had worked with Wernher von Braun at the Marshall Space Flight facility in Huntsville, Alabama, on the first spacecraft to the moon and later was director of the Data Center for the Florida Legislature.
Before running was fashionable, the rail-thin Johnson ran. He played softball, avoided smoking and alcohol, and he kept stress to a minimum alongside his loving wife, Joy.
Yet in the 1980s, there had been bouts of colon cancer – twice treated and twice “recovered completely.”
Years later, doctors diagnosed a cardiac arrhythmia. Johnson went on medication to regulate his heartbeat, and since he was retired, even took a mission trip to Haiti.
And then, one day, “squatting down in my flower bed, I suddenly found myself rolling to the ground… and I couldn’t find a way to get up.”
Johnson says he had no pain and throughout his stroke was able to speak and to understand.
“I kept telling my wife who happened to see me on my back in the flowers, that I’d get up in a minute… except that by then I couldn’t move my left side.”
The ambulance arrived quickly and transported Johnson to Tallahassee Memorial HealthCare.
“All I would say is to never put someone with symptoms like mine in your car and try to drive them to the hospital,” he said. “You’ve got to get going on it fast. Call an ambulance.”
Dr. Matthew Lawson at TMH threaded a catheter through a large vessel in Johnson’s groin and above the site of the stroke, then slowly removed the occlusion, a blood clot or a broken-off piece of plaque.
Lawson opened the vessel’s walls and allowed blood to once more feed the cells of Johnson’s brain.
He spent five days in the Intensive Care Neuro Unit, with a follow-up in rehabilitation at HealthSouth. The severity of residual impairment has much to do with what part of the brain has been affected and for how long.
“Identifying shapes, perceptive decisions, reading comprehension, logic patterns were part of my mental rehabilitation, and the biking, walking, balancing were for the rest of me,” he said.
His road to recovery saw one more visit to TMH when Dr. Wayne Bachelor and his team replaced an aortic valve. Today, two years after his stroke, the 6-foot, 2-inch Johnson considers himself lucky to have had access to such care.
Bob Earl shares Johnson’s sense of gratitude.
Just over a month ago, Earl, who is 78, was in a position for immediate action to be taken when he had his stroke… actually, several.
Earl, a retiree from Rockwell and later from a Disney boat driving job, was at Capital Regional Hospital recovering from quadruple stent placements in his heart, placed there through a catheter from his groin. Earl had been treated for cardiovascular disease for some years, and the stents, minuscule cage-like structures, were needed to keep the vessels of his heart open and functioning.
But while he was still recovering in the hospital, Earl says the rehabilitation therapist that came to his room noticed that he was “listing.”
Immediate CAT scans showed “up to five” ischemic areas in Earl’s brain, possibly caused by small bits of detritus that had come loose during the placement of the stents.
Earl showed some facial droop and balance difficulties, but medications were prescribed that, along with some later at-home rehabilitation exercises, helped the symptoms subside.
“I’m only glad I was in the hospital when this happened,” said Earl. “I’ve got plans to get back to my golf game, by the way.”
Earl makes sure he continues to work with his cardiologist, Dr. Joseph Baker, and to keep the names of his medications and a brief health history in his pocket at all times.
“If anything should happen again, I want them to have all the information they need!”
SIGNS AND SYMPTOMS
May is American Stroke Awareness Month, a time to remember that strokes are the No. 2 cause of death worldwide, that they leave thousands with disabilities and diminished lives — and that there is often something we can do about them. The American Stroke Association wants everyone to know the signs and symptoms of stroke by the acronym, FAST.
- Face: Note facial drooping or weakness
- Arms: Can both arms be lifted and are they equal in height and strength?
- Speech: Is there slurring or confusion in expression?
- Time: It’s of the essence in getting medical intervention. Each minute without adequate blood flow to the brain risks permanent damage
DIFFERENT TYPES OF STROKES
While the symptoms can be similar, stroke types can vary.
Thrombotic strokes are caused when the vessel itself “shuts down,” filled with either a clot or with fatty plaque around which a clot forms. Embolic strokes are caused when something floating in the blood stream becomes lodged in a vessel — a clot, a fat globule, even air or gas. A hemorrhagic stroke happens through leaking or rupture of a vessel, which causes loss of blood to an area of the brain; the opening of a weakened spot in a vessel called an aneurysm is an example.
Yet 87 percent of strokes are ischemic in nature. They are short-term obstructions that inhibit blood flow and are defined as lasting less than five minutes. But TIAs, transient ischemic attacks, are often the precursor to major strokes. The symptoms are similar: numbness or weakness, especially on one side of the body; confusion, loss of vision in one or both eyes, balance problems, or sudden headache are all cause for immediate medical action.
15 RISK FACTORS
1. Being overweight or obese
3. Heavy drinking or binge drinking
4. High blood-pressure
5. Smoking or second-hand smoke
6. High cholesterol
8. Sleep apnea
9. Cardiac arrhythmias
10. Familial history of cardiac disease
11. Age 55 or over
12. Race. (African Americans are at greater risk for stroke)
13. Gender. (More men have strokes than women; but women at older ages, tend to die more frequently)
14. Hormone replacement and birth control pills may also elevate the risk of stroke.
15. Use of cocaine and/or methamphetamines.
SOURCE Tallahasse.com & Tallahassee Memorial HealthCare