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Taking the Next Step

Originally published: 2012

Five survivors come together to raise awareness of stroke

the next step sallyTwo years ago, Oconee High School English teacher Sally Baker suffered a stroke that left her partially paralyzed and unable to walk or talk.

One year ago, Sally created and completed the Next Step 5K, a 3.1-mile walk to raise awareness of stroke and support for St. Mary’s stroke programs.

This year, Sally is taking the Next Step 5K to the next level, teaming up with more stroke survivors to put more faces on a condition that affects people of all ages and backgrounds.

“Although we are all of different ages, races, and walks of life, the recovery and rehabilitation of a stroke is similar,” Sally says. “Each survivor has said words that I know have come out of my mouth, and this is the reason why the Next Step 5K is so important. We share this tragic event in our lives, but the care we received has helped us move beyond it, and now we are coming together to help others.”

Joining Sally as survivor hosts of the 2012 Next Step 5K are Randy McCauley, Kyle Clay, Joe Comfort and Garnett Dress. For each, the Next Step 5K is a step forward in their own stroke journey.

Randy McAuley

the next step randyRandy, who lives in Franklin County, was a healthy young man who ran up to 6 miles a day. Then, an undiagnosed blood disorder triggered a stroke after surgery at a community hospital. He was rushed to St. Mary’s, where emergency surgery relieved pressure on his brain and gave him a fighting chance at life. Immediately after the stroke, he could barely speak and feed himself; today, he speaks clearly, swims three hours a day, and has begun walking short distances with a cane.

“I was 39 and he was 42,” says his wife, Joy. “When you’re that age you don’t really study up on strokes, but the people we have met through St. Mary’s have made us realize that it can hit anyone. The more people are aware of the signs to look for, the more you can stop it before it is so detrimental.”

“I want to mention how important God is in my life,” Randy adds. “Don’t give up. There is light at the end of the tunnel.”

Kyle Clay

the next step kyle At 20 years old, Walton County firefighter Kyle Clay could not believe his symptoms – slurred speech, severe headache, left side tingling and facial droop – were signs of a stroke. He drove himself to the closest hospital, barely able to keep his car on the road. But a stroke it was, attributed to a blood vessel malformation that was causing bleeding in his brain.

“I was lying in bed at the hospital when my mom began reading Sally Baker’s story out loud from a St. Mary’s pamphlet,” says Kyle. “After hearing Mrs. Baker’s story I thought, if somebody cares enough to go back and share their story about St. Mary’s, that truly says something about the hospital.”

Kyle was soon transferred to St. Mary’s Center for Rehabilitative Medicine, where his recovery accelerated, and he continued with St. Mary’s Outpatient Rehabilitation Services after discharge. Now, one year later, Kyle says you can hardly tell anything ever happened to him.

“You go from doing everything on your own to being in a hospital bed and having people do everything for you,” he says. “It’s hard to even describe the feeling I had being at St. Mary’s. They treated me with such great care and made me feel so comfortable and were so helpful, but also helped me work towards my rehabilitation goals. It made a terrible thing a little bit better.”

Joe Comfort

About five years ago, ex-UGA football player Joe Comfort returned to Athens after being away for over 50 years. But nine months after he returned, the 71-year-old collapsed at home with a stroke.

the next step joeThree weeks of intensive rehabilitation at St. Mary’s Center for Rehabilitative Medicine allowed him to return home in a wheelchair, and then St. Mary’s Home Health Care Services brought the care he needed right to his living room.

As Joe improved, one of his doctors asked about his goals for recovery. Joe replied, “I’d like to dance and play golf again.” So when he finished his home health care rehab, his doctor prescribed continued therapy through St. Mary’s Outpatient Rehabilitation Center. Now, four years later, he’s walking, driving (cars, not golf balls – yet) and getting ready at age 75 to do the Next Step 5K.

“I am so thankful for all the people in my life who have helped me through this,” Joe says, citing family, friends from his football days, and the physicians and nurses at St. Mary’s. “It will be a big boost in my recovery to make it through the entire walk.”

Garnett Dress

Garnett Dress was a stay-at-home mom for 15 years while she and her husband raised their two daughters in their Watkinsville home. In early 2011 she returned to work, but in October 2011 she was rushed to St. Mary’s with symptoms of a stroke.

the next step van“Upon my arrival, Dr. Van Morris and his team began to work their magic,” Garnett says. That “magic” was a powerful clot-busting medicine called tPA – tissue plasminogen activator – which can dissolve a blood clot in minutes and restore blood flow to affected parts of the brain, stopping the stroke in its tracks. But it’s a powerful drug that can be given only to patients who have no risk of internal bleeding and who get to the hospital fast after symptoms begin.

“We have developed a highly refined protocol to make sure we can safely give tPA to as many stroke patients as possible,” says Dr. Morris, a neurohospitalist who, with H. McCord Smith, MD, practices only at St. Mary’s. “It takes a sophisticated, coordinated team to administer tPA. We’ve developed that here at St. Mary’s, which is part of the reason we’ve earned the Gold Plus award for stroke care two years in a row. And it works: our outcomes are far above national averages.”

Garnett’s outcome is a good example. “I came through with no lasting effects,” she says. “I am truly thankful for being given a second chance. By participating in this event, I hope to raise awareness that age is not the only determining factor in your risk for a stroke.”

Signs of stroke:

  • Sudden numbness or weakness of the face, arm or leg, especially on one side
  • Sudden confusion, trouble speaking or understanding
  • Sudden trouble seeing in one or both eyes
  • Sudden trouble walking, dizziness, loss of balance or coordination
  • Sudden severe headache with no known cause

Call 911 immediately if someone begins showing signs of stroke. Time lost is brain lost!