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Tyler Clark's Rock Solid Recovery

Rock Solid 1 2014

At age 43, Tyler Clark, a geology instructor at Wake Tech, was helping a friend remodel her bathroom. After sanding sheetrock and getting covered in dust, he came home and immediately took a shower.

While in the shower, Tyler got a sudden, splitting headache – a sign of a stroke. “I thought I should sit down but I ended up leaning on the wall. I then remember sliding down the wall. When I woke up, I was coughing because I had water in my mouth. The water was rising because I was blocking the drain,” recalls Tyler. He stood up but could tell he couldn’t move well. When he shifted to his left leg, he fell on the floor. “When I woke up, I felt something under my stomach. It was my arm, but it didn’t have any feeling in it,” he says.

A friend came to Tyler’s rescue and called 911. “I heard myself trying to give her the address to the house and I sounded drunk,” Tyler recalls. On the way to the hospital, Tyler passed out. He woke up two days later in WakeMed’s intensive care unit (ICU). A nurse told Tyler, “You had a very large stroke, and you are lucky to be alive.”

Tyler had a hemorrhagic stroke, which results when a weakened blood vessel in the brain ruptures. Hemorrhagic strokes are less common but more deadly than ischemic strokes, which are caused by blood clots.

Tyler was paralyzed on his left side. Only time and therapy would tell how well he would recover. Like most stroke patients, Tyler worried about his future. As a geologist and outdoor enthusiast, Tyler spends a lot of time outside working, hiking and camping. He wondered if he could return to his life.

When it was time to move to the WakeMed Rehabilitation Hospital, Tyler was pleasantly surprised. “It was such a positive experience,” Tyler recalls. He is very thankful for the top-notch team of physical and occupational therapists, who made him work. Hard. “For me, things returned quickly,” says Tyler. Patrick O’Brien, MD, the medical director of WakeMed Rehabilitation Hospital, would come by and tell Tyler that he could go home once he could make the NC State wolf sign with his fingers. By mid-March he could and was on his way home. Tyler had no speech deficiencies or problems with his legs. He continues to have some problems with dexterity in his fingers and is working to bring that back.

When he was in physical therapy, Tyler used an elliptical trainer and a treadmill, which made him think he should continue with activity after leaving the hospital. He decided to join a gym.

One day while on the treadmill at the gym, Tyler decided to burn off some frustration, so he started running. “After a while, the treadmill was squeaking,” he says. “I looked down and saw my foot was dragging. Then I looked at the odometer and I had gone five kilometers!” That was six months after Tyler’s stroke. Now, you will see Tyler on Raleigh’s Greenway and other running spots he finds on www.mapmyrun.com.

At the request of one of his physical therapists, Tyler also came to WakeMed to talk to some recent, young stroke survivors. “Kelly Kucin, a WakeMed occupational therapist, contacted me. She said she was working with a couple of guys who were young like me and struggling with their recovery. I knew exactly where these guys were in their heads, explains Tyler. Like Dr. Li Chen, Tyler offered them and all those recovering from stroke the following advice: “There is hope, but you have to work hard for it.”