Stroke survivor recalls the moment that changed his life

Published 7:00 am Friday, May 16, 2014

A stroke can strike anyone at anytime, no matter how healthy a person may be.

Steve Smith knows that as well as anyone.

An avid bicyclist, the 57-year-old Buchanan native peddled upwards of 30 miles a day. He had good cholesterol and blood pressure levels. He maintained a healthy diet.

Steve Smith

Steve Smith

All those things did nothing to ward off the stroke that changed his life in 2008.

Smith had been home from work for a few hours when he felt a sharp pain in his back. Not long after, he began drooling, lost his ability to think clearly and half of his face went numb.

Steve called his wife, Cyndy, who told him to phone 911, but Steve said he couldn’t remember how to dial the numbers.

“His speech was slurred and he wasn’t making any sense,” Cyndy said.

“I couldn’t talk, or move — nothing,” said Steve, who is sharing his story because May is Stroke Awareness Month.

After a series of tests over the next several days, doctors determined that an artery in Steve’s chest had burst, likely due to a genetic defect. It caused a blood clot to move into his brain, resulting in the stroke.

“I never thought that could happen to me,” said Steve, a 1975 graduate of Buchanan High School.



The after effects were devastating on Steve’s overall health and well-being. He couldn’t walk, had trouble talking and required constant monitoring from a home healthcare nurse. He was depressed and even contemplated suicide.

One moment, however, changed his entire outlook on life.

While lying in bed about a month after the stroke, Steve watched his 9-year-old daughter, Hannah, now 15, walk out the door on her way to school, which was about two blocks away.

He’s not sure where it came from, but a thought popped into his head as she headed down the driveway.

He was going to walk her to school one day, come hell or high water.

“I thought if I could do that, I’d consider myself successful,” he said. “I’ve never given up since that point. I will never quit rehabbing myself.”

Steve’s first step was crawling across the carpet to the door. In the days and weeks following, he worked his way up to walking her to the end of the driveway and, eventually, halfway to school. A couple months later he made the entire trip.

“It was one of those moments in life that alters the way you’ve been going,” he said.


A new normal

Doctors have told Steve that he will never get back to person he was before. He’ll always struggle with what most would consider simple tasks, like driving a car or counting change.

He’ll never be able to go back to his job installing windshields on jet aircraft. He might never be able to ride a bike or run again.

“When you have a stroke, you never get over it,” he said. “You are a survivor, but it is always there. It never goes away.”

That doesn’t mean he isn’t striving to get a little better each week.

“So many people limit themselves to their disability — they focus on what they can’t do,” he said. “There’s a lot that I can’t do and that hurts me, but I try to keep focusing on what I can do. That is what I do everyday.”

In the fall, Steve began going to Fitness Industry in Buchanan in an attempt to improve his overall physical health.

The first time he walked on a treadmill, he got so sick he had to get off after five minutes. With encouragement from his family and gym owner Greg Schuman, he kept trying.

Now he can walk for an hour on a good day.

“It’s all about moving forward,” he said. “No matter how I feel, no matter how bad of a day I am having, I get up and try to do the best I can do. If I do that, I feel like I’ve been a success.”

Steve said his family has played a large role in helping him get to this point. His wife went back to college at age 52 to become a nurse to help support the family.

“She had to change her whole lifestyle to compensate for my stroke,” he said. “That’s a big sacrifice that I don’t take for granted. The stroke didn’t just affect me, it affected the whole family and I’m only as good as my support group.”