Who is your hero? Who has inspired you by exhibiting extreme courage and achievement in the face of adversity? Is it a historical figure, like George Washington or Abraham Lincoln, or, a religious figure, like Moses, Jesus or Muhammed, or maybe, a civil rights icon, like Martin Luther King or Nelson Mandela? Or, perhaps, it might be an ordinary person you know or know of who, while not famous, has accomplished something so truly remarkable, against such long odds that you are truly inspired. Not all of us can point to such a person, but I can. It is someone very close to me that I have known all his life. It is my son, Matt.
It all began on July 5, 2015, a day I will never forget. Like the JFK assassination and the 9/11 terrorist attacks I will never forget where I was and what I was doing when I heard the awful news. It was a typical summer’s day in the NY area, bright and sunny. Matt was enjoying a family day with some friends and his lovely wife and two children at a local club. Suddenly, after swimming in the lake he became dizzy, lost vision in one eye and collapsed. He had suffered a dissection of his carotid artery, which had triggered a massive stroke.
Luckily, there was a doctor present. He immediately recognized what was happening and knew exactly what to do. This doctor accompanied Matt in the ambulance and stayed with him at the local hospital to ensure the ER doctors gave him the clot-buster shot and other appropriate treatment, including emergency surgery to remove the clot within the five-six-hour window that is considered to be optimal for treating strokes. This certainly mitigated the effects of the stroke and may even have saved his life.
My wife and I were eating dinner with friends at a local restaurant when we got the shocking telephone call that Matt had suffered a stroke. It seemed impossible. Matt was only 40 and in excellent physical condition. He worked out regularly, ran and practiced jujitsu. The caller did not know any details, not even if Matt was alive. If you’re a parent, you know that type of telephone call is as bad as it gets. Luckily, our friends insisted on driving us to the hospital in Westchester to which Matt was being transported (the Westchester Trauma Center). I don’t think I was in any condition to drive. We arrived at more or less the same time as Matt. We were able to see him and ascertain that although he was in very serious condition, he was alive. After the surgery he was only able to breathe with the aid of a ventilator, and his skin was the color of white porcelain.
Over the next few days the medical news was very dire. The doctors confirmed that Matt had, indeed, suffered a massive stroke. He was not conscious; he was paralyzed on his right side; he might need a craniotomy; he was blind in his left eye; and he had only partial vision in his right eye. He was in such bad shape that I felt elated a few days later when I squeezed his hand and felt him squeeze mine back.
The doctors told us he was facing a long, arduous recovery, one -two weeks at the hospital followed by six to nine months at a rehab facility. In addition, they said there was a good possibility that he would never recognize us, speak, or be able to walk unassisted. As far as returning to a normal life as a husband and father and resuming his career as a senior research analyst, that was seemingly too unrealistic to even contemplate. (Later, Matt told us that one of the doctors had flat-out told him he would not recover sufficiently to do so. When we asked him if that had bothered him, he said “no, I knew he was wrong.”) I realize that doctors feel compelled to disclose all possibilities, but there is a natural tendency to focus on the most negative ones, and that was an extremely disturbing prognosis.
Over the next year. Matt made a remarkable recovery. He was discharged from the hospital in only six days and transferred to Burke for rehab. Not only did he have to rehabilitate himself physically, but he also had to rehab his mind and his memory. At first, he didn’t even recall very basic elements of his life, such as the names of his wife and children and his current address. He had to relearn how to speak. His rate of progress was beyond anyone’s most optimistic expectations. He attacked his rehab with a vengeance. He attended every session. He never once told them he was in too much pain, too tired, or not in the mood, as many rehab patients do. Many times he would cut short our visit by telling us he had to leave for a rehab session. If they told him to do ten of something, he would do 15. He would complete the most tedious and frustrating of tasks without complaint. His course of rehab included robotics, which helped considerably. Of course, it helped that he was only 40 years old and in excellent physical condition, but, nevertheless, he astounded the doctors, the therapists, and, indeed, even us with his progress. In August 2016, after less than one month at Burke, he was discharged, although he still undergoes private rehab once a week.
Matt’s astounding recovery has included the following accomplishments:
- He completed his rehab at Burke and returned home to his family well ahead of schedule.
- The day he was discharged he accompanied his wife and son to Nassau Coliseum, which was over a one-hour drive, to see Billy Joel’s last concert there.
- He climbed up to the top of the Statue of Liberty.
- He has resumed his career as a senior research analyst at a Wall Street firm. This is a remarkable achievement since his job is very demanding, requiring many hours of complex analysis, a high level of prolonged concentration, and high-level meetings with clients.
- He has completed two half marathons. How many non-stroke victims can say that?
- Most importantly, has resumed his role as husband and father, and my wife and I have our son back.
During his recovery period Matt was fond of saying his full-time job was to get better. He applied the same single-minded determination and dedication to that task as he has to everything else in his life. He is not yet all the way back, but if you were to meet him today for the first time you would likely not realize that he had suffered a massive stroke only 20 months ago.
My wife and I know that Matt was extremely lucky that there was a doctor present who ensured he received the immediate care he needed as well as an amazing support system of friends, relatives and colleagues, and, for that, we will be eternally grateful. However, the determination with which he attacked his rehab virtually willing himself to get better was nothing short of amazing.
We have always been very proud of Matt, but, now, he is and will always be, our hero.