I am twenty five years old and a stroke survivor. I had no risk factors, no warning signs. On November 26, 2005, my life changed in the blink of an eye. Four years ago, I was a freshman at Western New England College in Springfield, Mass. I had a pretty typical life. I was having a great time in college, I was playing hockey on a Junior Hockey team. Sports had always been an important part of my life. I learned to skate soon after I learned to walk and had played hockey since I was four.

The weekend before Thanksgiving I had a hockey game. As hockey games go, it was a rough one. I had always been a player who would do anything for the team. I saw an opponent take a shot on net and I dove on the ice to block the puck. I didn’t realize how fast I had skated in, how close I was to the boards. I remember slamming head first into the boards. My Mother told me later that she thought I had broken my neck, she said it was the worst hit she had ever seen me take. Within a few minutes I started to move my legs and skated off the ice. The trainer checked me out, found no signs of a concussion and I finished the game. My neck hurt, but compared to what could have happened, I thought I was pretty lucky.

A few days later I was home for Thanksgiving. The day after Thanksgiving I was back on the ice. This game was pretty typical, nothing out of the ordinary happened. So, when I came home that night and told my parents that my legs were weak and I had a headache, they weren’t too concerned. Later that night I started to vomit, the right side of my face was a little numb. We all thought flu. No one put together that hit from six days earlier with the flu like symptoms. I went to bed before the symptoms escalated.

When my Mother went to check on me the next morning I was unresponsive. I was rushed to the nearest ER and for thirty six hours I was treated for Encephalitis. A radiologist’s report diagnosed stroke, but the neurologist refused to believe him, telling my parents that “19 year olds don’t have strokes”. Later that afternoon, an MRA confirmed stroke. When I hit the boards, I tore an artery in the back of my neck which bled slowly. It took six days before a clot formed. I had suffered a Brain Stem Stroke, the most devastating type of stroke.

I was “locked in”, fully cognizant, but unable to move, unable to communicate, on a respirator. For the first two weeks, they did not know if I would live. I beat the odds and survived and on December 16, 2005 I was transferred to Gaylord Hospital. When I arrived at Gaylord I couldn’t see, I couldn’t speak, couldn’t swallow, I couldn’t open my mouth, my jaw was clenched shut. The clot went up both sides of the brain stem, so I was totally paralyzed. I had no idea what my future held. It was now up to me and the incredible staff of Gaylord Hospital.

After two months at Gaylord, I met a goal I made to myself the day I was wheeled in through those front doors, I walked out with the help of a walker. My vision had returned and I was eating again. My right side was still affected, my speech was not clear. I refused to settle for anything less than a full recovery and being an athlete, I knew I had the will and the discipline to continue to fight. I have spent the last four years focused on my recovery and rehabilitation. My right arm is now functional, my speech is clear again. I am taking college courses, I have a part time job and I’m driving again in a modified car. Most incredibly, I am Ice Skating again. My parents never knew if I would walk again, never dreamed I would skate again. I always knew I would, it was just going to take time. I am so proud that I continue to accomplish my goals.

I share my story in the hope that it will touch or help others. I have reclaimed my life and want to help others do the same.