Stroke of Luck

Gratitude for a near-death experience that extended one man’s life

  • Category
  • Written by
    Steve Seidel
  • Illustrated by
    Christine Georgiades

It was a routine Thursday night. After a day of work, I headed to Novo Body in Encino. The first warm-up was rather simple: wide legs, forward bend, barbell behind shoulders. Suddenly I felt lightheaded. Couldn’t keep my hand on the bar. The instructor had me sit down in the lobby. The receptionist called the owner of the gym, who happens to be a friend, and put me on the phone. I could barely formulate a sentence. Minutes later there were no fewer than six EMT/medic dudes in front of me, asking questions and putting me on a gurney.

Despite my parents’ iffy genes, up until that point, I’d never been in an ambulance or received any medical attention in my life—save an ingrown toenail surgery in high school.

Inside the ER, doctors asked questions. My name. Nailed that one. What year was it? I could see the numbers 2-0-1-8 but couldn’t verbalize them. How old are you? I answered 47, a year off. They had an Oregon neurologist consult with me via a video screen. He showed me a series of photos. Some I got right — chair. Some I got wrong—cactus. I stared at the thorny plant but just couldn’t get out the word. The doc told me he thought I had a TIA, aka a “mini stroke.” Turns out even minis are not to be trifled with. He prescribed TPA, a fluid that flushes the clot out but has a 6% chance of fatality. Time was of the essence. Somehow my wife got my internist, Dr. John Andrews, and his wife (both are good friends), on the phone. John gave the TPA fluid the thumbs up—without hesitation—and moments later it was pumped into me intravenously. Turned out to be a miracle drug; within minutes, birthdays and cacti were free flowing from my consciousness.

Speaking of miracles, there were definitely some in play that day. The incident happened in a controlled environment (I could have been driving.) with others around to witness it. Apparently there are a lot of people who get a little stroke and shrug it off. Left untreated, a stroke can come back with a vengeance; we’re talking Grim Effing Reaper here. The gym location, only two minutes from the Encino ER, was also a blessing.

After the ER we were off to St Joe’s in Burbank for a fun-filled, 36-hour, fact-finding expedition, where I gave up more blood, sweat and tears than a weekend in Vegas with Mike Tyson in The Hangover. OK, mostly just blood. The CAT scans, ultrasounds and an MRI ultimately revealed a contained cerebral infarction. A later test showed a “PFO,” basically a small hole in my heart where a blood clot can travel to the brain. Everyone is born with one, but 16% of us still have it as adults. So that’s how it all happened.

To say this whole experience has been surreal is like saying Ventura Blvd. has a few sushi restaurants—a mild understatement. When you’re a kid, you feel like you’ll live forever. When my parents passed away in their mid-60s, it threw me. When you experience a “health event”—that’s next level. Doing just about anything with independence seems irresponsible. Setting out on a solo bike excursion across Mulholland suddenly sounds terrifying. Spare ribs are replaced with chicken or, gulp, tofu. Somehow you ease into acceptance. Give me the tofu in exchange for the encore. I’ll make that deal every time.

Steve Seidel is an EP and Partner at the branded content studio VIMBY. He lives with his wife, two children and golden retriever in Sherman Oaks.