My Stroke Survival Story [How I Got Here]

My Stroke Survival Story [How I Got Here]

It all started with a headache.

And it led to where I am today, a regular dude who has found happiness and contentment by living in a Toyota Prius.

But let's rewind a bit, shall we?

Aside from the emails I've received asking me to share more about my story, I'm putting this out in the open for two reasons...

  1. I want to be fully transparent with my readers and hopefully inspire you to find your own happiness.
  2. I want you to know that you can overcome ANY obstacle that's in your way, provided you have the will.

While there are many places to learn about vehicle dwelling online, one of the things that sets this place apart is my UNIQUE JOURNEY.

Please use it as a motivating factor to get out there, carve your own path, and to turn lemons into lemonade!

Below is a video of my first steps after 5 weeks of intensive therapy. This is also my new YouTube channel. I would REALLY appreciate it if you can subscribe! There are a bunch of helpful videos I’ll be posting soon ✌️

Right after being released from physical rehab in late 2020, and before everything would spiral out of control.

The Beginning

I was with my ex-girlfriend (and mother of my son) for about 14 years.

Like many relationships, over time, ours began to slowly deteriorate.

Knowing that our future together wasn't going to last forever, and realizing that I wanted more of out of life, I began looking at potential "Plan B's".

One day, while randomly surfing the net, I stumbled upon the world of nomads, specifically vehicle dwellers, and it instantly captivated me.

Everything about this lifestyle appealed to me on so many levels; the adventure, the simpler way of living, the opportunity to live cheaply, etc.

I was hooked. I voraciously read & watched everything I could about car living for a year or two.

My ultimate plan was...if my girlfriend and I wound up calling it Splitsville, I would make the transition to nomad life. However...

Things don't always go as planned or expected.

The Main Event

For the sake of our son (who is our world), my now ex and I tried to make things work as best as we could. There were lots of ups & downs, and ultimately, I never put my car life dream into motion.

But our relationship was still suffering greatly.

Then it happened.

In early August of 2020, I got a very bad headache.

At first, this was nothing new to me, as I was plagued by migraines since childhood.

But this headache was a different animal altogether!

Migraines - for me - usually always subsided within 24 hours. I would get so sick and couldn't contain vomiting, or I'd have to take a few Advil to sleep it off. Either of these things always ended the suffering.

But for this particular headache, nada. Worse yet...

It was not only NOT going away, it also seemed to be intensifying by the day.

During the first 48-72 hours of this escapade, I just wrote it off as yet another of the hundreds I've had in my life. Nothing to get alarmed over.

Aside from not going away though, this headache was soon spreading throughout my face, even into my jaw region. This was definitely a first.

Being a typical guy, I didn't seek immediate treatment because...

  • A headache isn't something to worry about for a 'man's man'.
  • I was never fond of visiting doctors or hospitals.
  • I didn't want to wait 8 hours in an emergency room only to have a nurse laugh at me and send me home with a few aspirin.

This thinking was FOOLISH. It cost me dearly and forever altered my life.

After 7 or 8 days of this agony, I finally broke down and went to see my primary. I definitely knew something was very wrong by this point.

After explaining the situation to her and requesting an MRI, she told me that the insurance company wouldn't approve one as they are expensive, and a head x-ray needs to be the first course of action.

This mystified me, but I had no choice in the matter. I wound up having the head x-ray a day or two later, and nothing unusual was found in the results.

As the headache was still raging, an MRI was then scheduled. But because it was the beginning of the Covid pandemic, I couldn't get in for the MRI earlier than 2 weeks out. So...

I went home hoping that the headache from hell would simply go away on its own. Well...

A couple of nights later, while settling in to watch t.v. for the night, I was chewing on some candy and heard a pop noise emanate from my head. It startled me, and I instantly experienced a warm feeling throughout my body, followed by seeing floating stars. Strangely...

There wasn't any pain. And the headache miraculously seemed to stop. Yet...

I knew something BAD was happening.

I called out to my girlfriend - who was already on high alert due to the headache situation - and told her we needed to go to the hospital immediately.

While she was scrambling to get the car keys, etc., I made my way down our staircase and into the living room. Just as I got there...

My right arm went limp, and I started to feel woozy. My vision blurred up fast, too.

Roughly 5 seconds later, my right leg gave out, and I collapsed to the floor. I yelled out for my girlfriend to call an ambulance.

While I was very dazed and terrified, I still had my wits about me and assumed (correctly) that I was having a stroke.

I can vividly remember looking up at my son - who was 11 at the time and beyond scared with what was unfolding - wondering if I would ever see him again. I told him that I loved him while he, my girlfriend, and my next-door neighbor were all standing over me, urging me to hang on and remain strong.

While it seemed to take forever, the ambulance arrived after about 8 or 9 minutes, and I was transported to the hospital.

My Second Chance

My ANGELS at Kessler Rehabilitation. I would not be where I am today without their love, brilliance, and dedication ❤️ ✌️

Upon arriving at the hospital, I was immediately put through a battery of tests that confirmed I was still in the middle of having a major ischemic stroke.

They administered the drug TPA to me, and it - along with the amazing care of their entire team - saved my life.

While being stabilized in the hospital for about 10 days, I learned that my particular stroke was a vertebral arterial dissection. It was caused by trauma, not bad health, as I was in pretty good shape medically speaking.

Aside from my stroke being massive, it was also pretty rare. Due to the location of the stroke in my body, I also have Wallenberg Syndrome. This is an entirely separate issue, and trust me, it’s no fun.

In hindsight, I remember specifically what led to the stroke...

I was in Target and purchased something that was in an incredibly heavy, large box. Instead of asking an associate for help taking it to the register, I hoisted it upon my shoulder and carried it myself, which was a pretty far hike.

The hefty weight caused the sharp edge of the box to compress deeply into my neck, which I thought nothing of at the time. Yet, a day later is when the headache began.

The edge of the box must have pinched my artery, causing a small tear, which started bleeding. That was the origin of the pain.

Ignoring it was the worst thing I could've done, as it must have clotted over and eventually burst when the stroke occurred.

I wound up being admitted to Kessler Rehabilitation Center in New Jersey after leaving the hospital. I was beyond fortunate to get in there, as it's one of the top 3 rehab centers in the U.S. Matter of fact...

It is the same facility that nursed Christopher (Superman) Reeve back to life after his infamous horseback riding accident decades ago.

The angels at Kessler were instrumental in the second act that I am living now.

They literally had to teach me everything - like a baby - all over again; how to move my limbs, get dressed, go to the bathroom, walk, climb stairs, etc. Therapy was grueling. Physically, emotionally, on every level. 3 hours per day, 6 days per week, no exceptions. But...

Due to my angels and the hard work we put in, I left Kessler with the building blocks I needed to go forward. More importantly, they gave me hope.

Upon being discharged, I was able to walk again - barely (and for only a few steps) - with the aid of a walker device.

I Went Home and Things Fell Apart

I returned home to a loving partner who cared about me and did the best that she could, but one who didn't have the necessary emotional tools to deal with a newly disabled person. Especially an erratic, sometimes mean disabled person who would soon go through a serious bout of depression.

We already had sizable problems in our relationship, and the stroke only added yet another layer of problems. On top of her being busy trying to run a business, taking care of a house, and raising a child, putting up with me was a major burden. I fully admit that I was NOT easy to care for at times.

To make matters worse, my new out-patient therapists who came to the house were awful, and I stopped putting in the critical work that was needed to regain my mobility.

With all of this going on, my mindset started to go south, and a deep mental funk was quickly settling in.

I was inactive all day, every day, and most of my time was spent laying in bed watching t.v.

I could no longer enjoy any of the physical activities I once did, and I missed being outside, as well as in the company of my friends doing stuff we were passionate about, like hiking, fishing, etc.

The ONLY thing that I had left to enjoy, which I could still partake in regardless of my broken physical condition, was food.

And I embraced it with the fullest abandon!

I ate 24/7. Mostly junk food. It made me feel better. My day revolved around eating and watching the boob tube.

Within 6-8 months of this routine, my weight ballooned to almost 250lbs...from about 185.

I looked terrible, felt terrible, and life was terrible. After a routine visit with my doctor, I also learned that I had developed pre-diabetes.

Things with my girlfriend were deteriorating rapidly, as well. Fights were happening frequently, and our son was beginning to be affected by all of this upheaval.

At my heaviest, almost 250lbs. I know, I looked terrible 😱 Excuse the long hair. It was during Covid and barber shops were closed! On one hand I’m ashamed of this photo, but on the other I’m proud, as it signifies just how long and tough this journey has been. Well worth it though!!!

Something Had to Give - The Turnaround

Based on the significant problems we were going through, time was ticking for me and my girlfriend. To be blunt, she asked me on more than a few occasions to leave the home we shared.

Of course, this wasn't an easy task, as I could barely walk, my weight was off the charts, and financially speaking, I was dead broke.

While she was trying to be patient, things were becoming more volatile between us. I was on borrowed time.

Then, 2 things happened. Both of which were like small rays of bright sunshine in the midst of a coming storm.

  1. The job I had prior to my stroke took me back.
  2. I remembered my vehicle dwelling dream and everything I learned about it.

It was the beginning of a plan!

Here are the exact steps I took to escape that situation and build a new life for myself...

  • I sat my girlfriend down and told her if she could promise me peace without constant arguing, and give me 6 months, I would gladly move out

  • Thanks to my prior employer taking me back, I began working from home and saved every penny that I could

  • I adopted a drastically different (healthier) diet aimed at losing some fast weight

  • I practiced walking as much as possible

  • I started piecing together everything I would need to jump into nomad life (getting a used car, buying gear, etc.)

  • Relearned to drive using an adaptive driving device (this means my gas pedal is to the LEFT of the brake via a special piece of hardware)

All of this was an ENORMOUS undertaking by itself, but to do it within 6 months was madness. And here’s the truth…

I couldn’t get it done in 6 months. It took 8, instead. I also fell a bit short on a couple of my targets, however…

I was close, and I made huge amounts of progress!

I’ll close this section by saying this…

Just as difficult as my physical rehabilitation was, so too was having to leave my home of many years, knowing I will no longer see my son every day. My new journey was truly a bittersweet moment.

But this is the way relationships go sometimes, and I had to accept it and hope for the best. Being at war with a significant other regularly under the same roof is not a healthy way to live, especially if kids are involved.

The Next Chapter: A New Frontier

I officially hit the road full-time in April of 2022, and here I am 16 months later not only surviving, but thriving.

Was this journey hard? You betcha! Was it worth it? Without a doubt!

Here’s where things stand, as of today, 8/14/23…

  • I have lost just about 70lbs., with another 5-10 more to go

  • My diet has been radically transformed. Sodas, juices, pasta, pizza, and most other junk foods are out of my life, save for the occasional treat

  • I see my son every few weeks, and he's growing fast. He starts high school this fall

  • My ex and I are now on much better terms. This means a lot to me

  • I have been able to save a decent amount of money due to the lower living expenses of vehicle dwelling

  • This blog is starting to pick up steam, and I appreciate all of my readers & subscribers

  • My walking, while MUCH better, is still a challenge. I use a mobility scooter to accomplish many of my errands, and sometimes a cane, as I'm deathly afraid of falling outside. My balance is NOT good. More work to go on all of this. I need to get my butt back into therapy. However, I'm obviously able to live fully-independently again, which is something I'm very proud of, and I didn't think was possible only a few short years ago

Final Thoughts

I’m not a He-Man, tough guy, nor do I have super human abilities. I’m just a regular, average dude.

I accomplished all of this through sacrifice, dedication, and hard work. You can do the same.

Whether you aspire to live in a car, to become a chef, a dancer…whatever your dream, it CAN become a reality if you put the effort in.

Even if you’re presented with challenges now - whether big or small - the KEY is to start moving. It’s all about momentum.

While my life is far from perfect, it is better now. I’ve found peace.

You’re reading this right now for a reason. You’re probably thinking about becoming a nomad yourself. If so…

Start putting your plan into motion. Tomorrow isn’t guaranteed, get the ball rolling today. If you need help, I’m only an email away.

P.S. - If you’re reading this and are already a fellow nomad, I hope we have the pleasure of meeting up on the open road sometime.