STORIES FROM THE HEART: Living through a stroke was one thing; now he’s regaining what he lost, inspiring others
Sebastian Baker knew he was at risk of stroke because it ran in his family.
An aunt and a cousin each suffered debilitating strokes. Each endured complications in ensuing years, then died.
Those relatives were in their late 30s and early 40s when they suffered their strokes. Sebastian was 45 the day he came home from work and realized something was wrong, but wasn’t quite sure what it was.
The afternoon of May 10, 2012, Sebastian arrived at his condo in Jacksonville, Florida, and ran up the stairs to his place on the third floor. All of a sudden, he felt strange and dashed into the bathroom. Looking in the mirror, he barely recognized the distorted image reflecting back to him.
“That’s when I knew something was really wrong,” Sebastian said.
The best thing he could’ve done was call 9-1-1. Sebastian called a cousin. The only words he could get out were, “Come quick.”
Because they’d spoken about a half hour before, the cousin asked if Sebastian was serious. He never answered.
“Before I knew it, I dropped the phone and fell to the ground,” Sebastian said.
His right leg and arm had gone numb. Unable to get up, and worried no one would find him, Sebastian inched his way on the floor out of his condo to a neighbor’s front door. He kicked on it with his left leg.
“I was scared because I didn’t know what was happening to me,” he said. “I didn’t have the foggiest idea it was a stroke.”
No one answered and Sebastian closed his eyes to rest. The next thing he remembers is hearing his cousin calling his name.
An ambulance rushed him to the hospital. Five days later, he moved to a rehabilitation facility. He grappled with depression as he contemplated what was ahead, recalling the experiences of family members who faced significant disability after surviving strokes.
“After the shock wore off, I realized I had to make a choice whether to just lie in bed or do everything I could to try to walk again,” he said. “I decided that even if everything failed, I was at least going to try. That’s when my new life began.”
He couldn’t walk or feed himself. His speech was significantly impaired. So Sebastian simply started over, retraining his body to complete the tasks needed to live.
Hard work paid off. After two months, he was able to talk and to walk using a cane. Doctors told him that it also helped that he was in relatively good physical condition at the time of his stroke.
Sebastian initially stayed with an aunt and uncle, but soon craved his independence and moved back to his third floor condo. It wasn’t easy, but Sebastian tried to focus on one day at a time.
“I had no idea how hard it would be to do everything from washing my clothes and cooking,” he said. “But I was up for the challenge because I know that nobody in life gives you anything. You have to work for it.”
Five months after his stroke, Sebastian returned to his job as a business analyst at Merrill Lynch. At first, he took a cab or accepted rides from coworkers until he was cleared to drive.
He’s still focused on his recovery, and continues to improve as he builds strength and coordination. For instance, a few months ago he was able to start walking up the stairs by alternating feet on each step, rather than having to place both feet on each step.
“It takes concentration and determination, but I’m doing it,” Sebastian said.
Sebastian also has learned more about his risk for stroke. In addition to his family history, his blood pressure was too high, something he’d been trying to lower through diet and exercise. He also learned that the risk is nearly twice as high for African-Americans as it is for Caucasians.
He takes medication to control his blood pressure and gets checked by his cardiologist every six months. He’s also continuing his to recover his faculties.
He still lacks some strength in his right leg and arm. His speech remains a bit off. Some mistake his “accent” as being from a Caribbean island.
“But really I’m from New Jersey,” he said, joking that it’s a “parting gift” from his stroke.
Last year, Sebastian began volunteering for the American Heart Association and the American Stroke Association. He even participating in a Go Red For Women fashion show. He wants to raise awareness about stroke being the No. 4 killer of Americans and a leading cause of adult disability.
The American Stroke Association wants all Americans to know that stroke is beatable, treatable and largely preventable. It’s also important to know how to recognize a stroke F.A.S.T. – that is, if you detect face drooping, arm weakness or speech difficulty, it’s time to call 9-1-1. The sooner care is given, the better the chances for recovery; time lost is brain lost.
Sebastian’s aim is to share his story in hopes that others will refuse to let a stroke defeat them. His message is all about being positive.
“I tell people, ‘Take one step at a time. Don’t get down if you have a bad day because the next day may be better. Whatever you do, don’t give up.’”
Photos courtesy of Sebastian Baker
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