You may have seen me between the hours of 4pm and 6pm every afternoon,
a 39 year-old Unit Manager from HSBC Auto/Finance, running past pedestrians
and parked cars on the streets of my neighborhood in sunny San Diego
California for the past 5 months.
On March 6th, 2005, I hit the streets of the city of Angles with 26
(plus) thousands other runners in the Los Angeles Marathon. I looked just
like all the other runners on this warm, clear day. Except for one thing.
No one knew that only six years ago I couldn't walk, I had lost control and
strength in my limbs, I had severe dizziness and unsteadiness. At one
point, my family, and my Doctors were not sure if I would make it through
the night. I am a stroke survivor.
A stroke survivor, a person that finished a 26.2-mile run.
While at work in 1998, My life was suddenly changed. First I felt dizzy,
then I couldn't stop sweating, and soon I became paralyzed on one side of
my body. I thought I was a healthy man. I thought I caught a cold, not a
stroke. Six years later, I found myself running past the Staple Center in
down town Los Angels with less that 2 miles to the finish. This was my
Los Angeles California, The city with a big heartbeat, a past, and
Hollywood. On the morning of the marathon, I was awestruck of the see I
witnessed. 26,000 plus athletes drinking Gatorade, water and exchanging
stories and strategies. The weather was an unbelievable, sunny and in the
upper 70's. 70 degrees might be considered too hot for some, but it felt
perfect for this New Mexico native. When the gun went off, people ditched
clothing layer's, applied sunscreen and BodyGlide, other's rushed to find a
place to go to the bathroom.
Running is a equalizer of people. It does not matter who you are or
what you do in your other life. We are all just runners with a journey
ahead. You may wonder how some people are going to survive the race. And
then you really wonder later? when they pass you buy ? Will I survive?
Endurance is not merely about muscle. The early miles passed by in a blur
of adrenaline and excitement.
5th and Figuroria felt like being at state fair. Both runners and
on-lookers were screaming, and hooting. We passed through neighborhoods
that smelled like bacon and eggs at Mom's house. The smell of Coffee was in
the air. Running buy MLK Blvd you heard the sounds a Soul, rap and funk..
It took me back to New Mexico, this is the music I grew up with. There are
so many cultures in a 26-mile span.
At mile 18 we found our selves on Pico and Whilshere Blvd. People
started to shuffle instead of run, but I stayed on pace. Mile 20 took us
toward Korea Town. I remember one group of on-lookers passing out beer in
Dixie cups. It smelled like a bar I use to work at in Albuquerque. At
mile 22 the dreaded cramps began. My thighs felt like they were on fire.
I pulled over to stretch my thighs. I ran until they cramped, pulled over,
stretched, and repeated this for the next 3 miles.. I had a snap shot of my
family at the finishline hearing my name, and then "report to the medical
tent". I knew my pace goal disappeared. People around me were walking and
I felt like walking to. But, I told myself "Dig".
Until you come face to face with despair, you can not imagine what it
will take to get through. It was not about time. It was about having
the strength to survive.
In Downtown LA on the final stretch, I looked ahead and thought "I am a
marathon runner? a runner that six years ago I suffered a stroke". I recall
how grateful I am for God to giving me this moment, this body, this health,
and the strength to survive and cross the finish line.
I am one of the lucky few stroke survivors who have recovered most of
their functions. On September 18th 1998, my left side became paralyzed, my
speech became slurred, and then my balance was gone. It was like being on a
rollercoaster ride-literally. I had no warning. I had no symptoms. I became
a statistic at the age of 33.
Just a few months shy of my 40th birthday, I wanted to run the marathon
not only for me but rather the other Stroke survivors and caregivers that
shared a similar experience. And I especially wanted to run the marathon
for those stroke survivors that are not able to run. I realize I am
extremely lucky but feel there needs to be increased awareness among people
my age regarding stroke and stroke prevention.
I realize that I am one of the several hundred thousand Americans under
the age of 40 who have suffered a stroke. My stroke was diagnosed as
Wallenberg Syndrome. I suffered a dissection of the vertebral artery (on
the right side of my neck). The inner lining of the artery dissected and
began to bleed on to the brain. Most of these patients are usually between
20 to 40 years old and many have no prior stroke risk. The experience was
terrifying. I am very fortunate that I was quickly taken to a nearby
hospital and received immediate diagnosis and treatment.
My recovery was relatively fast, positive and aggressive. I had many
frustrating months. But with the help and Support of the San Diego
Rehabilitation Institute, the ER Doctors at UCSD Hospital, my current
Doctors at Kaiser Permanente, my family, my dog Cooney and my friends. I
was able to return back to work full time in 5 months and have since made
an almost complete recovery.
I have been able to find support and information from the American
Stroke Association soon after the stroke. I had always hoped to be able to
spread the word about how to prevent stroke and what to do if someone is
having a stroke. Few people realize that, 16,000 plus have died from
strokes in California alone. Every year, more than half a million Americans
suffer a stroke. While only about 20% of these attacks are fatal, the
majority of victims face the risk of severe and often permanent disability.
Recognizing the symptoms of stroke and getting the appropriate medical
attention as quickly as possible are the keys to reduce the long-term
impact of a brain attack. I found that the American Stroke Association can
provide information on causes and treatments for stroke, including new
research, medications and therapy's to treat Stroke.
I HOPE YOU CAN HELP ME SPREAD THE WORD ABOUT STROKE PREVENTION.
By Robert B Martinez - Stroke Survivor/Marathon runner