Rob Hargis was an avid Senior Olympic-level basketball player. He kept himself in good shape, both mentally and physically, by immersing himself passionately in his sport and participating in basketball tournaments all over the world. In fact, the 69 year-old had just played in a World Masters Basketball competition in Sydney, Australia, in October of 2009…a mere two months before his hemorrhagic stroke in December of that same year.
Ironically, Rob was at a health club working out when his brain began to hemorrhage. He was rushed to Parkwest Medical Center in Knoxville, Tennessee, where he remained for one week before being transferred to the Patricia Neal Rehabilitation Center (also in Knoxville) for six weeks of rehab. Rob returned to Parkwest, where he continued rehabilitation as an out-patient for three more months, He then began long-term out-patient therapy at the Ft. Loudoun Medical Center in Lenoir City, TN.
Experiencing a health crisis that compromises your ability to function can crush anyone’s spirit. However, this can hit a competitive athlete especially hard, since many athletes draw their very identity from being exceptionally physically able. It was no different with Rob.
At the time of his stroke, he was a retired mechanical engineering consultant who was more than happy to leave his career behind to concentrate on Masters basketball. But his stroke was a real “game-changer.” The senior athlete not only found himself in a bad physical state, but in a precarious emotional state, as well.
Since Rob’s brain hemorrhage was focused on the right side of his brain, he ended up with paralysis in his left arm and hand. In addition he had trouble speaking and concentrating. Even more disconcerting, Rob had to wrestle with residual anger, depression and fear of what the future would bring. The much-traveled competitor, who used to fearlessly hit the road for basketball tournaments, was now reluctant to travel because he became disoriented and fatigued by unfamiliar surroundings.
There were other rough spots, as well. Rob never did like being dependent upon other people for help. It was upsetting to him that he now had to rely on others for help to navigate his post-stroke world, and even harder to accept that he sometimes needed assistance with basic everyday functioning.
But, motivation comes from many places. Rob summoned up the inner drive that carried him through many challenging basketball tournaments over the years. He rallied and persevered, and did exactly what his doctors and therapists ordered to give his recovery the traction that it needed.
There were various interventions and activities that helped Rob get to where he is now. While in rehab, Rob received traditional physical, occupational and speech therapies. In the months that followed, he had botox injections to counteract spasticity plus he used a Saebo® assistive device on his left hand. Rob also wore an ankle-foot orthosis on his left leg, but was able to graduate to a simpler ankle brace down the line.
To this day, Rob continues his on-going rehabilitation by working out five days a week with weights and using aerobic machines. He pushes himself, even though it’s often a struggle. And, he does a unique form of “basketball therapy.” He shootis baskets and dribbles a ball across a basketball court. This forces him to move his body “holistically” and sharpen his “hand-to-eye” coordination.
Rob knows that his competitive basketball days are behind him. However, he still maintains a strong connection to his favorite sport. He’s passing on his extensive knowledge and experience by coaching others. His wife, Susie, plays on the 65-69 age group team, the “Smoky Mountain Hot Shots” which Rob coached to a 1st place gold medal in 2013 at the National Senior Game, Championship. That same year, Rob and Susie celebrated another “gold”, as well: their 50th wedding anniversary.
While basketball has played an important role his recovery, Rob actually feels that his greatest achievements since his stroke were the simple acts of being able to walk and to drive a car again. Regaining these two activities opened up a whole new world to him, by enabling him to become a volunteer “Peer Visitor” twice a month, at the Patricia Neal Rehab Center in Knoxville (where he originally stayed post-stroke.) Rob also finds a lot of satisfaction gardening and maintaining his yard --using his riding mower.
While it’s clear that volunteering and working in his yard have helped to bring a sense of normalcy back into Rob’s life, it hasn’t been easy. He says he’s only been able to make gains with the help of his wife, Susie. She was, and still is, his greatest source of strength and inspiration; Rob says that without her, he wouldn’t be where he is today.
Rob networks with other stroke survivors, both within his local stroke support group (which he and Susie attend every other month), as well as with the Peer Visitor Group, at the Patricia Neal Rehabilitation Center. By interacting with others who are in similar situations, he’s gained a new perspective on living post-stroke. Rob has this advice for other stroke survivors: recovery is a slow process, and it may be difficult to accept your new normal, but try different things to stay motivated. Don’t give up easily.
Anyone who wishes to contact Rob Hargis can reach him via the Stroke Network. His user id is: Rob1