Intercepted by stroke
Before his stroke, Bill Gordon was a very active member of the community.
The Winnipeg man coached football and started a football program at Dakota Community Club in his area of South St. Vital, and raised $60,000 worth of equipment for the program. He also coached soccer and baseball, curled and worked as an umpire in a slow pitch league.
All that changed, when on July 31, 2007, just months after his retirement from the Manitoba Housing and Renewal Corporation, Bill suffered a massive stroke.
“I remember relaxing, watching my favourite sports show on TV when suddenly the phone rang. My wife was trying to sleep upstairs, so I got up quickly to answer it. I tried to stand but my legs felt weak and I just dropped to the floor,” said Bill.
Soon after, Bill’s son, Daniel, 27, walked in from soccer and saw his dad slumped on the floor.
“He thought I had to go to the washroom, so he tried to help me up. When he realized I couldn’t walk, he ran upstairs to get my wife,” said Bill.
“As soon as I came down, I knew it was a stroke,” said Bill’s wife, Tannis. “The side of his face was drooping, he was sweating profusely, he couldn’t move, and his speech was slurred.”
“I was trying to say ‘something is wrong with me’ but the words weren’t coming out right,” said Bill.
Tannis quickly dialed 9-1-1 and told the operator her husband was having a stroke. The ambulance soon arrived and rushed Bill to St. Boniface Hospital.
“In the ER he was shaking and I had to hold him to keep him still for the nurses. He doesn’t remember it, but he told me, ‘everything is going to be okay. I love you,’” she said.
The family was told that ‘a piece of cholesterol plaque had broken off and travelled to his brain,’ forming a blood clot. Bill was treated with tPA, the clot-busting drug.
tPA can only be used within the first 4.5 hours from the onset of stroke symptoms. It also only works in cases of ischemic stroke (about 80% of strokes), in which blood flow and oxygen to the brain are blocked by an obstruction or blood clot in a blood vessel supplying blood to the brain.
“I consider myself very lucky that my son came along when he did. I got to the hospital within 30 minutes at around 10 pm, and by 11:30 they had administered the tPA. Everything worked out in my favour,” said Bill.
“If our son hadn’t shown up, I wouldn’t have seen Bill until morning,” said Tannis. “It is scary to think of what would have happened.”
Within an hour of the staff administering tPA, Tannis noticed her husband’s movement beginning to come back. Bill later woke up in recovery to find out that he would need to learn how to walk again.
“They started me on exercises like picking up pennies. I hated the food and hospital atmosphere and I said to myself, I am going to get out of here as fast as I can, so I worked twice as hard,” he said.
After two weeks in hospital, Bill went home with a walker and Tannis stayed home with him that first month to help him recover.
“Without Tannis, I don’t think I would have accomplished half as much as I did. It really takes a great deal of support to heal from something like that.”
“I told him ‘can’t’ is not in our vocabulary,” laughed Tannis.
Today, four years after his stroke, 65-year-old Bill can say he is fully recovered, but admitted he is not the same as he used to be. “It has affected our holidays. When there is a lot of walking, I have difficulty keeping up with people.”
“He used to be an excellent umpire and was involved in many sports and activities up until his stroke, but he had to let everything go – everything except curling,” said Tannis.
Bill also remains a member of Toastmasters, and has given speeches about his experience with stroke.
“I am one of the lucky ones. Others might not be so lucky, so I want to do what I can to help others learn about the signs and symptoms and know what to do if it happens to them - to help save lives,” he said.
The couple said Bill’s memory and his ability to focus has also been impacted by the stroke, but it hasn’t stopped his determination and tenacity.
“About a month after Bill’s stroke, I had just returned to work after being at home with him for some time. I was standing there with my boss and several dignitaries, and here Bill drove himself to my office and shows up with a bunch of roses for me for our anniversary,” she laughed. “I was worried about what my boss might think!”
“I may not remember anything else, but I will always remember our anniversary,” he said with a smile.
Despite their good humour and positive outlook, the couple said the stroke has left a permanent mark on their family, changing their lives forever.
“It was traumatizing. After what happened, I never left for work without waking him up and talking to him first. I wanted to make sure he was okay,” said Tannis. “I still have that fear of ‘what if’.”
More than 50,000 strokes occur in Canada every year. That’s one stroke every 10 minutes. Over 300,000 Canadians are living with the effects of stroke. After age 55, the risk of stroke doubles every 10 years. A stroke survivor has a 20 per cent chance of having another stroke within two years. Of every 100 stroke victims, 15 will die and 75 will have life-long disabilities.
Posted July, 2011