Last year at this time, my parents spent their 66th anniversary together in the hospital. My father died the next day.

Brunswick resident Heather D. Martin wants to know what’s on your mind; email her at [email protected]

In a lot of ways, we were extraordinarily lucky. My father was 89. He lived a full and extraordinary life, was beloved by all of us and, what’s more, he was aware of being loved.

What happened with my dad was he had a stroke. And then another and then another. His body just started to short circuit and there was no stopping it or reversing it. The best we could do was be by his side, which we did. We were able to tell him the things we needed to, and he heard them.

Not long after, by way of coincidence, Dr. Tom Broussard, a stroke and aphasia survivor and educator, wrote me a very kind note about a completely unrelated piece and asked if I would ever consider writing about brain health and strokes.

According to the Mayo Clinic, a stroke occurs when the blood supply to part of the brain is interrupted or reduced, preventing brain tissue from getting oxygen and nutrients. Brain cells begin to die in minutes.

Signs and symptoms of stroke include trouble speaking and understanding what others are saying; paralysis or numbness of the face, arm or leg; problems seeing in one or both eyes; headache; and trouble walking.

If any of these symptoms occur, call 911 immediately.

To increase your chances of avoiding a stroke, eat healthy foods; maintain a healthy weight; get plenty of exercise; avoid cigarettes, alcohol and other drug use; monitor your blood pressure and cholesterol levels; be aware of your family history; and don’t get COVID.

Truth. As if COVID wasn’t bad enough just on its own, it increases your chance of stroke, too. Yet another reason to vaccinate, wash hands and mask up.

The good news is, medical science has really come a long way in relation to strokes and, as Broussard’s own lived experience shows, recovery from a stroke is now a reality for many.

Retired from the Navy and a distinguished academic career, Broussard was serving as an assistant dean at the Heller School at Brandeis University when he suffered his stroke. “I fell down on Main Street in Waltham, Massachusetts, and lost my language,” he said in an email to me. “I could not read, write, or speak well. It took me about four years to get (mostly) better although I still practice every day.”

Since his stroke, he has published four books and hundreds of articles and presentations about stroke, aphasia, recovery and related topics.

Broussard’s website, strokeeducator.com, is dedicated to advocacy and education on stroke and aphasia for those wishing to know more.

I am not a doctor nor do I play one on TV. If you are concerned about your risk factors for stroke, please speak with your doctor. If you or someone you know are experiencing symptoms, please take immediate action.

I am not a doctor. What I am is a daughter. It was hard to lose my dad and painful to watch such a brilliant, witty and profoundly articulate man struggle to form sounds. May this small conversation help alert you and yours to the warning signs and the options for help. Be well, be safe, be strong.

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