Don “Babe” Weinberger and his wife, Eloise, wish they had known then what they know now: how to recognize a stroke. Eleven years ago a stroke changed Don’s life. He is a former truck driver and mechanic who raised three sons and a daughter on the Fort Peck Reservation.
For Don, and for many survivors of stroke, recovery continues for the rest of his life. Half of the people who suffer a stroke are moderately to severely impaired, according to the National Stroke Association.
“Still have a tough time with my right side,” Don says. But Don’s main frustration is the lingering effect on his speech. “I can’t hardly talk,” he explains in an earnest fashion, his hands mobile, reaching for words. “It’s hard to find what I want to say. The thought in my brain … doesn’t connect with my lips.”
“I didn’t expect to be a speech therapist,” says Don’s wife, Eloise, with good humor. She has helped him with his recovery, from learning to walk again to practicing speech. His sons also helped take care of Don during his early recovery.
Before his stroke, like baseball’s famous “Babe,” Don was used to having the muscle power to do what he wanted to do. Don’s decreased strength in his right arm is what finally signaled Eloise to call an ambulance. Don was taken to Billings where a doctor told him he had had a stroke. It was three days after the start of his symptoms.
Most strokes are caused by a blood clot that cuts off the flow of blood and oxygen to an area of the brain. Brain cells begin to die within seconds. In twelve minutes, 23 million brain cells die. In an hour, 115 million brain cells die. Stopping this brain damage is the reason immediate treatment for stroke is critical.
Because each hemisphere of the brain has neural connections to one side of the body — the opposite side — stroke victims often experience weakness or numbness on only their left side or right side. Or their face may look crooked. This one-sided effect is an important clue that the problem is stroke.
Don recalls a feeling his “mind was all tangled up.” He woke up the morning after a day of hauling railroad ties and he couldn’t think or talk right. Slurred speech, confusion or words gone haywire are also clues that point to stroke.
He felt so bad he went to bed and stayed there. “We didn’t know what was happening,” Don says now. “People need to know the signs of stroke and know what to do.”
Don still works on cars and drives. He’s proud that he was able to get a ’92 van running again with a new engine and transmission about six years ago.
“You can learn to live with it – and prayer has helped me through – but better to learn what it is before it happens,” Don advises.
“If I had known, I would have got him to the hospital right away,” Eloise adds. “Now we know
that time lost is brain lost.”
If you suspect a stroke, call 9-1-1 immediately. To learn more, see www.strokeassociation.org or call 1-888-4-STROKE (1-888-478-7653).