In March of 2012, 49-year-old, former New Zealander Tony Poole was enjoying a snowboarding trip with some buddies at Powder Mountain, Utah. But, their vacation was cut short when Tony experienced an ischemic stroke while asleep, after a long day riding the resort.
Tony was rushed to Ogden Regional Medical Center, in Ogden, Utah, where he stayed for seven days until stabilized. Once he was discharged, he began six-months of out-patient rehabilitation therapy at St. David’s Hospital in Austin, Texas.
At the time of his stroke, Tony held a position as a product line manager for a software company. Being a stroke survivor certainly wasn’t on his agenda, but as every survivor knows, stroke has a way of sidetracking life plans. So Tony’s life screeched to a halt, as he was forced to pour all his energy into his recovery and how to navigate his post-stroke world, so that he could get back to business at hand.
Tony’s stroke was centered in his right, middle cerebral artery, which caused paralysis on his left side, and created significant aphasia and balance problems. He says his first response to this assault on his body was to ask, “why me?” followed by “how quickly will I be able to recover?”
He felt devastated and kept experiencing depression that kept him backsliding into emotional lows that threatened to derail his recovery. But, in the end, Tony persevered and began to pull it together thanks to a combination of traditional and non-traditional approaches, plus a terrific, unflagging “support team” that had his back.
As an out-patient at St. David’s Hospital, Tony received physical, occupational therapies, but he also tried other treatments, as well. He utilized acupuncture and meditation, and tried Chinese herbal tea to enhance his overall well-being. He also he worked with special speech recognition software to try and become proficient with a computer keyboard (a mandatory prerequisite to return to employment).
However, it was Tony’s comprehensive, and very impressive, support team that made all the difference in his overall recovery and outlook:
His wife Geane: Married to Tony for 24 years, she’s weathered the post-stroke storm remarkably well and has managed to keep Tony’s family strong throughout all of the ups and downs. Tony says that she’s been his confidant, cheerleader, therapist, sounding board, and rock; in other words, the keystone to rebuilding his post-stroke life.
His children, Holly, 19 and Callum,18: They’ve been incredibly mature, helpful and supportive. He says that they are the two “ultra-optimists” in his camp.
His friends and colleagues: Tony has also been blessed with a terrific group of very active friends who encourage Tony to push himself, while slowing their own pace down so that he can participate in activities. Tony’s work colleagues and peers were very supportive, immediately after his stroke event they fulfilled immediate business commitments and obligations in his absence.
His employer: Management at BMC Software stood by Tony throughout his six months of initial rehabilitation and subsequently allowed him to continue his rehab three times during the work week (a rare accommodation for a for-profit company).
His medical team: The staff of the day program at St. David’s Hospital helped Tony through his recovery and continually developed unorthodox techniques to coax Tony, and his recovering brain, to “get it.”
His pets: Tony says that even his two cocker spaniels have played a role in his recovery. They’re non-judgmental; they don’t care about his impairments. And, it buoys his spirit when they’re overjoyed to see him, after he’s been out all day.
But life is not all rosy. In addition to lingering left arm and hand paralysis, Tony still has to deal with several other residuals. He says that public speaking is still a large challenge, and that his balance and mobility continue to be impaired. However, he’s making slow but steady progress. He says that his greatest achievement since having a stroke was to return to work full-time in September of 2012, less than six months after his stroke event. Not only has he resumed his former position, but due to recent reorganizations, he’s been assigned additional responsibilities.
These days, Tony spends a lot of time gardening. Before moving into software engineering nearly 30 years ago, Tony was a horticulturalist; since his stroke, his passion has been reignited. He spends countless hours in the garden which he says is good physical and mental therapy.
Tony still longs to be physically active and is hoping to return to his three sporting passions: golfing, snowboarding and cycling. In fact, cycling plays into one of two challenging goals he’s set for himself. Prior to his stroke, he rode his bike in nine “BP MS 150” events, a fund-raiser benefiting people with multiple sclerosis. The route is between Houston and Austin, Texas, and Tony’s planning to ride in this event for a 10th time in 2014.
The other challenging goal Tony has set is to hike James Peak, a mountain within the boundaries of the Powder Mountain ski Resort. After hiking to the summit, he will snowboard back into the resort.
Tony stays in touch with fellow stroke survivors that he met while at St. David’s. He’s also trying to establish a golf clinic for stroke survivors in Austin, Texas, based on a similar event (“Saving Strokes”) which was started in Sacramento, CA, and has grown considerably in the 12 years of its existence.
One year out from his event, Tony has taken great strides to reclaim his life. He feels that not only has the stroke changed his pace, but his overall outlook, as well. He says he’s still the same person. However he’s a bit more reserved, and definitely more appreciative of life. And, thanks to the wind beneath his wings…his wife, family, friends, employer and medical team…he’s been able to soar higher than he ever thought possible. He’s forever grateful for their unflagging support.
Tony can be contacted via the Stroke Network. His user ID is: ENZED