The real reason behind my celebration, but first I want to thank all of my friends and family for congratulating me. Noticed, I didn’t say Facebook friends? That’s because if you on my friends’ list, I know personally, and you’re beyond and more than a simple “Friend’s Request.”
We may not talk every day, but we are somehow connected. You have played an essential role in my life as a friend, colleague, ex-boss, co-worker, business partner, and family member, and I hold you dear to my heart, now onto the reason for my celebration. As part of a 2nd act to get into politics, my genuine aspiration via public serving. Having already a Bachelor of Arts in Mass Communications, I quietly went back to school in 2015 to obtain a B.S in Political Science. I earned my 2nd degree in 2018, and a month later, I enrolled in school in my attempt to seal the deal with a Masters.
Many of you may not know my recent experience with stroke year ago, December 5th, four months into starting my Master’s program at Barry University. I got hit with a stroke on the morning of December 5th, 2018. It was a Wednesday that will forever change my life, but for the better despite the challenges I faced up to this point. I was so busy working to live that I built a tolerance for high stress so much that I didn’t even realize how stress I was until a stroke woke me up as God’s warning to change things. Here’s my story:
MY JOURNEY WITH STROKE.
My name is Renel Gilles. I’m married to a wonderful woman called Frances together, we have two beautiful kids, Khemli and RJ (Renel Jr). They are 17 and 16 years old respectively, both in high school. I worked as a Director of Students Affairs at Concorde Career Colleges for 13 years. And I have been pursuing my master’s degree in Public Administration at Barry University. This is my life story where I talk about the onset, progress, and outcome of my stroke, which occurred four months after I started pursuing my masters, including how it changed my life forever. The story addresses the challenges I went through, how I overcame them as well as my initiative to set up a non-profit organization which will aim at promoting Stroke awareness and early prevention in young adults. My life story is meant to explain what stroke is, what it does to the human body, its progress, and recovery, its statistics in the US, how it affects families, how we can help reduce it and also give hope to those fighting against it.
Stroke is a disease which is as a result of brain deprivation of blood supply. This usually happens when blood vessels supplying blood to the brain get blocked (Ischemic Stroke) or when blood vessels burst, causing blood leakage (Hemorrhagic Stroke). It affects one’s mobility, speech, memory, eyesight, and also causes numbness to parts of the body like the face, arm, and legs (Lindley, 2017). According to US statistics, each year, more than half a million people experience a Stroke which statistically indicates that every 40 seconds someone gets a Stroke. It is also the fifth leading cause of deaths in the US, and about 140,000 lives are lost each year due to the disease (Gillard, 2013). This shows that stroke has become one of the significant threats to human life. It’s also important to note that there has been a massive rise in the cost of healthcare in the US, thus a challenge in handling the threat of a Stroke. It costs the government about $35 billion each year to manage stroke; this rise in cost could be attributed to the high increase in population in the US. To fight this disease, paying attention to proper nutrition/diet is one of the factors that can help reduce its prevalence. Avoiding food with high cholesterol, reduction of salt intake, reducing intake of food with high sugar levels, monitoring the number of calories intake, increasing fruits and vegetable intake have been identified as some of the ways which can be practiced to preventing a Stroke (Wityk & Llinas, 2007).
My stroke happened on the fifth day of December 2018. It affected my ability to talk and my right side’s mobility, meaning I could only operate using my left side. Fortunately for me, my memory and other cognitive functions were not affected, such as perception and decision making. Also, to my advantage, I was able to continue with my master’s bedridden because I’m left-handed, and only my right side functionality was affected. I was determined to succeed with my master’s no matter what I was going through. I got admitted at Advent Health hospital, in Wesley Chapel, Florida, where I spent a long week. After that I was transferred to an inpatient facility for rehabilitation, called 6-South, another Advent Health location (formally known as Florida Hospital Fletcher). Rehabilitation generally means the care one receives to help them improve on their skills or abilities (Stein, Silver & Frates, 2006). At 6-South, I underwent inpatient rehabilitation therapy to help with my speech and mobility for two weeks. For patients with stroke, an occupational therapist plays a pivotal role to assist in crucial daily activities such as taking a shower, dressing, brushing teeth and any other practices carried out in our everyday life.
At 6-South, my occupational therapist really came in handy when I needed help in these activities. During my stay at 6-South, I also had a routine that I followed daily for the 2 weeks which I will share. At 7 am, my occupational therapist would help me with my day in day out activities such as taking a shower, dressing, and after that, I could have my breakfast. Next session was at 9 am, and it involved meeting with my speech therapist who helped me learn to speak again by use of phonetics, tongue twisters, memory recalling and word associations which are just some of the exercises which are carried out to help in speech therapy. At 10:45 am, I could have my break where I got wheeled back to my room, and I was at liberty to either watch TV or take a nap until noon which was my lunchtime. The next session was my Physical Therapy which used to start at 2:30 pm; my physical therapist would take me through exercises that helped in my balancing, standing and also learning how to walk with the help of a walker. My Physical therapy would end at around 3:15pm, and this was my favorite time of the day because I got to see my wife Frances who at times could bring my children along. After 2 weeks, my inpatient therapy ended; thus I got discharged just in time for the Christmas Holiday. I now was able to continue my recuperation at home in the company of my family. It is worth to note that a disease like a stroke affects one’s family in all ways since it causes behavioral changes. Some of these ways include not being able to communicate around, some patient’s cognitive functions are affected such as perception and decision making thus a change in their behavior, a heavy emotional burden to caretakers as well as psychological toll especially in children when their guardian is affected (Stein, Silver & Frates, 2006).
At home, I slowly picked up with activities like taking a shower by myself. Meanwhile, my Occupational, Physical, and Speech therapists from BayCare Outpatient Rehabilitation Center visited me at home every Monday, Tuesday, and Friday for a duration of one month and a half. Thereafter, I started outpatient therapy at advent health outpatient rehabilitation twice a week, which lasted for a period of 6 months. Fortunately, I made significant progress; thus, I now could drive, talk but not as fluent as I did before the stroke, as well as walk around without a walker even though with slight limping. All the while, attending school online served as a great distraction and motivation for me. I was able to complete my masters with high distinction without the University learning of my ailment as I didn’t want any leniency or special accommodations from the University. This experience has taught me how to adjust to a new way of life, and even though I can’t be as invincible as I thought I was before, I didn’t let stroke define who I am. Currently, I’m still working on my speech and movement. My biggest challenge is how to deal with the insecurity that comes with the stroke aftermath. In my case, starting a possibly new job, as my old position of Director of Student Affairs was filled, and not being able to hold a normal conversation fluently without hesitation is scaring, but I’m confident that I will be able to pull through this.
My journey as a Stroke victim has made me reflect more into the world of stroke, especially in young adults. I remember there are times I would wake up feeling so down since my life had taken a drastic turn, I would worry about my future, and at times question why it had happened to me. I’m grateful to have had a great support system and also access to proper medical care. There are people out there who are not so lucky to have such privileges. There are also people out there who have lost hope of recovery as a stroke can be so emotionally draining. This has prompted me to set up a non-profit organization for Stroke patients. With this organization, I intend to create awareness on causes, prevention, and management of stroke; it also will help bring together these victims so that they can get to share about their journey and encourage each other. This organization will also help raise funds to assist in the care of patients since it is costly to cover for rehabilitation as well as get equipment needed for exercises like physiotherapy.
Finally, I would like to sincerely thank everyone who in one way or another got involved in my journey to recovery. Advent Health & Baycare Outpatient Rehabilitation team; the staff, therapists, cardiologist, and doctors; thank you for helping me regain my speech and walking abilities, for not giving up on me no matter how hard it would get for me at times. To my dearest wife Frances, my recovery could not have been possible without you by my side. Thank you for all the visits you made to check on me because I never felt alone. To my dear children Khemli and RJ., I couldn’t ask for better kids, your smiles and hugs helped me remain strong to my recovery. To my dear mother Antonia, my brothers Indel and Louis, my uncles, my aunts and cousins, no words are enough to express how grateful I am for all the support I received from you. To all my friends, to all my colleagues from Concorde Career College who reached out, I will forever be thankful for your help. Together, let’s fight stroke!
Wityk, R., & Llinas, R. (2007). Stroke. Philadelphia: American College of Physicians.
Stein, J., Silver, J. & Frates, E. (2006). Life after stroke. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.
Gillard, A. (2013). Stroke. Detroit: Greenhaven Press.