Tuesday, December 30, 2014

The New Year

Remember when Prince sang, "We're gonna party like it's 1999?" Man, that seemed so far off. Now it's so far behind us. At the end of a year everyone lists resolutions but these are a bit different. These are just ramblings, just thoughts of mine that I pass on to you.

With that in mind, here we go...

I hope 2015 brings you joy, good cheer and lots of gains so the bad times from stroke can recede further in your rear view mirror. When you're new at this you can't fathom that life will get better as time goes on. I'm further down the road and I'm here to tell you it does get better. 

Just hang on.

Here's to the caregivers of the world. Without them by our side life would be...you fill in the blank. They deserve all the love and respect we can muster. They need to be told often how important they are. 'Cause they are. They're the ones who help us (how's that Army commercial go?) be all that we can be. They're also the ones who put up with us and for that, they're oh so special.

Like you, I never thought I'd be where I am today. When I was young I would see bald men and think, "bad career move." Well, I'm kinda bald. Health problems seemed to happen to other people. Well, they happened to me. BUT. That doesn't mean you just roll into a ball and give up. 

Don't do that. You have to keep on keeping on.

Let me tell you about something I stumbled onto, Stroke Talk for Facebook. It's on Facebook, of course, and it's a forum where survivors and caregivers can go to get information, hugs, and talk to like minded people. Big ups to it for receiving us with open arms. It is so nice knowing you're not alone and that there are people who can help you navigate this path. And to answer questions that you can't ask anyone else. Check it out. I find it, and the people on it, very helpful.
Stroke Talk for Facebook

There is nothing quite like finding out that what you thought was the end of the road, isn't. Here's to finding out that what you thought was, is not what is. Sound goofy? Stroke survivors know what I'm talking about.  I'm constantly amazed I can do something in this new life that I thought I'd never do again.

I'll give you an example...I fill up the coffee pot every morning with water and walk it to the coffee maker holding it with my left hand.  I'm right handed, but this way I don't spill or drop it. My stroke, you see, affected my right side.  I add the grounds and turn the coffee maker on. That I can still do that, still contribute, is most important. The house smells like it always did in the morning. Doing it left handed is the new reality but I'm still making the coffee. Even in a wheel chair, you can't give up. Keep pushing yourself, keep striving to do better, to be better.

Raise a glass to the new year. I can't see the future but I know this, it will be better, it will be brighter.

Make it that way.

Happy New Year.

For more information on Stroke Talk for Facebook https://www.facebook.com/groups/strokeforFBsupport/

Follow me on twitter (@mcewenmark)
or on Facebook (www.facebook.com/markmcewensworld)
and visit my website www.markmcewen.com

Friday, December 19, 2014

The Central Florida Stroke Club

There are groups like it all over the country. They are stroke survivors and caregivers gathering and sharing ideas, taking comfort in talking with and seeing people just like them. Seeing people just like me. They are The Central Florida Stroke Club and guess what? It's Christmas time and it's time for their annual Christmas luncheon.

Let me give you a bit of it's history. Central Floridians have been welcomed with understanding and open arms to the Central Florida Stroke Club since 1973. That's over 40 years. That's also word for word from their website. They've been an oasis, of sorts, for a long time. It's a place that survivors and caregivers have gone since I was a freshman in college.

And that's important.

Feeling like you're not alone, that there are other people dealing with the same things you're dealing with, is very comforting indeed. They meet once a month, they have a picnic in the summer, and in December they celebrate the holidays together at a luncheon party.

The president of the club is Karen Kalich, a Recreation Therapist.
She was the Master of Ceremonies at the party and in her day job is the person these folks turn to for help and guidance. You will not find a better person and you will not find a more suitable ringmaster for a get together like this.

They had a gift exchange, a white elephant as it's called (something I've never heard of before) and here's how it works... you bring a gift, it might be something you find around the house (can you say re-gift?) and everyone has a raffle ticket where everyone is a winner and get's something. There are more rules but..
It wears me out just writing this but it is big time fun. There was also a 50/50 drawing where one lucky survivor got some cash and who can't use extra money for Santa? Man it was fun and that place was electric. We had other business like passing around goodies that someone had baked and singing We Wish You a Merry Christmas.

There was more but a good time was had by all.

As we were leaving I talked to a fellow stroke survivor who used a walker. We talked about driving and she told me she hoped to drive her car one day. And then she mentioned that her stroke was 11 months ago.

I jumped right on it--"11 months?" I said, "As time goes on you'll see that where you are now is not where you'll be then." You could see in her eyes that driving was something to shoot for, something that would make all the therapy worth it.

In that moment we weren't stroke survivors. Just people helping people. And that's what it's all about.

For more information on the Central Florida Stroke Club go to http://cfstrokeclub.com/Home/

Follow me on twitter (@mcewenmark) or on Facebook (www.facebook.com/markmcewensworld)
and visit my website www.markmcewen.com

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Heart Disease, Stroke and Research

Let’s talk numbers.

These stats were compiled by the American Heart Association. They’re from the association’s 2014 Heart and Stroke Statistics Update.


Here we go…

Heart Disease is the No.1 cause of death in the world and the leading cause of death in the United States.

Heart disease is the No. 1 killer of women, taking more lives than all forms of cancer combined.


Over the last ten years for which statistics are available, the death rate from heart disease has fallen about 39 percent.

That’s good news.

That means we are getting the word out, people are exercising more, eating healthier. That means we are fighting back. Hard. But there are still miles to go.

On to Stroke.

Stroke is the number 5 cause of death in this country, killing more than 129,000 people a year.
Stroke is a leading cause of disability BUT it’s also the leading preventable cause of disability. That bears repeating. The leading PREVENTABLE cause of disability. Good to know.

African-Americans have nearly twice the risk for a first-ever stroke than whites. I'm African-American and I live in, what they call, the Stroke Belt. Fried foods, lack of exercise, smoking, all those things ratchet up the chances for having a stroke. The American Stroke Association helps get that knowledge out there and it's making a difference.

Let me give you more good news.

Since 2004 the death rate from stroke has fallen about 36 percent.

That makes me think of what my father told me. He said when he was younger and people had a stroke? They would just sit on the front porch and wave slowly at the passersby. My how times have changed and I’m living proof of that. More and more survivors live through massive strokes, like I did, and live to have productive lives. Making it through the fire.

More numbers.

About 78 million U.S. adults have high blood pressure. Of that number, about 75 percent of those are using antihypertensive medication, but only 53 percent of those have their condition controlled.

Around 43 percent of Americans have total cholesterol levels of 200 or higher. Almost 20 million people here have Type 2 diabetes, and that rate is growing.

There's more.

Smoking? White men are in the highest percentile, African-American men and white women are right behind.

Most Americans older than 20 are overweight or obese, that's about 155 million adults. And children? About 24 million are overweight, close to 13 million are obese. Prime subjects for heart disease.

The numbers go on and on and many of them fall under the ‘danger straight ahead!’ category.  But I always say, the more you know about things, the more you can change them.

The American Heart Association doesn't conduct research rather they use donations to fund research PROJECTS.  They fund more research into cardiovascular diseases and stroke than any other organization except for the federal government. They are leading the way for us to beat this.

And THAT, my friends, is the best news.

Follow me on twitter (@mcewenmark)
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Visit my website www.markmcewen.com

Monday, December 8, 2014

Written for American Stroke Association by Denise McEwen

I’m a caregiver.

It’s not something I ever thought I would be. I don’t even think I had heard that term before I became one. My husband, Mark, suffered a terrible stroke and in an instant OUR lives changed forever. The strong man I married couldn’t walk, couldn’t talk and couldn’t take care of his family like he had anymore. I had to become the caregiver.

No choice.

But how we deal with what we’re given IS a choice.

My advice for caregivers:

  • Don’t ever, ever give up. Rehabilitation can be long and hard on everyone but it does work. 
  • Don’t listen to naysayers and listen to what the doctors say with a bit of a grain of salt. I was told what functionality Mark had back by six months would be it, and at five and a half months, I was frantic. He still continues to get better and better. I was also told he would never get his ‘old’ voice back. He’s 99% there! 
  • Celebrate small accomplishments. The first time my husband walked just half a hallway I carried on like we had just won the lottery. We still have on tape the day he got rid of his walker. And the first time he drove (just to the kids’ playground) brought tears of joy. 
  • Take time for you. I had to drive Mark to rehab every day, so I found a gym close by with childcare. We both were rehabbing at the same time. It was one of the best things I could do for ME. 
  • Keep what you can the same. This was so important, especially for our children. Mark had his stroke in November. I still had Thanksgiving at our house (and then took a plate to him). Christmas was as big and bright as always. 
  • Cry. It’s a great release. Cry alone, cry with friends. Then buckle up. This will not defeat or define you. 
  • Pray. Someone is listening! 
  • And know you are not alone. Reach out to other caregivers. Reach out to me!

Mark’s website is markmcewen.com. Click on the Contact Mark link and what you write comes to me.

Denise McEwen

Friday, December 5, 2014

Singing and Stroke

Heaven Is Ten Zillion Light Years Away is a great song, written and performed by one Stevie Wonder. It’s one of my favorites and helped me in a way that I’ll bet wasn’t intended. When I first had my stroke and began my therapies, Speech was one of them. I read children’s books, aloud, to help me with words, with sounds.  And then my therapist recommended singing.

Why singing?

Well when you speak, you learn how to run the words, the sounds, together. Part of my problem was the stroke had affected my speech causing me to make an 'uh' sound, a bit of hesitation, between words when I spoke. Singing helps a stroke survivor combat that, words flow easier when you sing.

So I began singing Stevie. That song, among others of his, saved me and Speech Therapy took on a whole new meaning. Before long I was singing all kinds of Al Green. Love me some Al. And every Beatles song I could think of. Love them, too. There were more but it's safe to say a lot of songs have a great meaning to me.

According to American Stroke Association, singing helps stroke survivors with aphasia-a disturbance of the comprehension and expression of language caused by dysfunction in the brain. Aphasia is commonly linked to stroke but in some cases brain trauma is the culprit. At first I struggled a bit with aphasia but I was one of the lucky ones and that slowly went away.

Christine Huggins and David Dow are the Founders and Directors of ARC-Aphasia Recovery Connection.

 They both had a stroke and they both suffer from aphasia. I met them and they're wonderful.

Christine is a Dartmouth graduate and was a lawyer when she had her stroke. David had his stroke at ten and is the author of Brain Attack: My Journey of Recovery. What they both are is an inspiration. Talk about turning lemons into lemonade. They also give people with aphasia hope and let them know they have support, understanding and are not alone.

In fact ARC was honored by National Stroke Association and was a 2013 Raise Award Winner. They are Rock Stars helping others. I like the sound of that.

As they say, "From small things, mama, one day big things come."

That's from a song. A song you can sing.

For more information on ARC go to AphasiaRecoveryConnection.org

Follow me on twitter (@mcewenmark) or on Facebook (www.facebook.com/markmcewensworld)
and visit my website www.markmcewen.com