“This is one race I couldn’t do on my own.”
Robert Taylor is not someone you’d expect to be a stroke survivor. The 56-year-old is a poster child for good health. He ran the Boston Marathon, completed three Ironman competitions — including the national championship —in one year, and has participated in countless triathlons. Even a random 100-mile bike ride on a Saturday morning isn’t out of the question.
“I love the process of exercising,” Robert said. “I started running, biking and swimming with a group of buddies in 1985, and we’ve been doing it ever since.”
Robert takes good care of his body in other ways. He doesn’t drink or smoke and maintains a good diet.
“I never thought I’d be the victim of a stroke,” he said.
One scary afternoon
Dec. 29, 2017, started like any normal day. Robert finished his morning workout, went to work at Taylor Trunk Co., a local luggage company his family has owned for 135 years, ate a healthy lunch, and then went back to the office. He sat down, planning watch the Louisville vs. Kentucky basketball game that evening.
He didn’t get back up.
“My daughter, Elyse, found me slumped over in my chair,” Robert said. “She said it looked like the right side of my face had melted. I couldn’t talk at all. I don’t remember much after that.”
Do you know the signs of a stroke?
If you think someone might be having a stroke, remember to BE FAST to get help:
Balance: Is the person having trouble walking? Do they have a loss of balance or coordination or dizziness?
Eyes: Is the person having trouble seeing? Has the person had a change in vision in one or both eyes?/p>
Face: Ask the person to smile. Does the smile look even? Warning sign — One side of the face does not move as well as the other.
Arms: Ask the person to raise both arms. Does one arm drop down? Warning sign — One arm does not move, or one arm drifts.
Speech: Ask the person to repeat a simple sentence such as, “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks.” Does the person have trouble speaking or seem confused? Warning sign — The person slurs words or cannot speak.
Time: Call 911 immediately; time lost = brain lost. Let emergency responders know the last time you saw the person well. More advanced treatment options may be available if medical care is received within three hours of the start of symptoms.
Another symptom could be a sudden, very severe headache.
Remembering these steps could save the life of someone you care about.
Adapted from Intermountain Healthcare. BE FAST was developed by Intermountain Healthcare, as an adaptation of the FAST model implemented by the American Stroke Association. Reproduced with permission from Intermountain Healthcare. Copyright 2011, Intermountain Healthcare.
Paramedics arrived in minutes. They quickly saw Robert was having a stroke and took him to Norton Brownsboro Hospital, one of only three Comprehensive Stroke Centers in Kentucky. Doctors gave him tPA, a clot-busting drug that can break up a blockage and restore blood flow to the brain. But it wasn’t enough and he needed surgery.
Hours between life and death
Robert was rushed into the operating room. Shervin R. Dashti, M.D., neurosurgeon, Norton Neuroscience Institute, took the case.
“Robert was suffering a major stroke,” Dr. Dashti said. “He had major blockages in his carotid artery in his neck and in his brain. He wasn’t getting blood flow to the left side of his brain.”
To break up the clots and save Robert’s life, Dr. Dashti needed to run stents through the blocked arteries. After a complex, multihour surgery, Dr. Dashti was able to remove the clots and get Robert’s blood flowing again.
“We didn’t know if he was going to wake up, and if he did, we didn’t know if he’d ever be able to walk, talk or function,” said Lisa Taylor, Robert’s wife. “A lot of prayers were said that night.”
“Wondering if I had died”
The following morning, Robert opened his eyes. His family, in tears, stood around him. Robert was oblivious to what had happened.
“I saw them around me and was wondering if I had died,” he said.
Once Robert realized he was still among the living, doctors asked him to perform basic tests, such as talking, lifting his arms and legs, and identifying pictures on note cards.
Amazingly, he did them all.
“Once I was told all of what happened, I couldn’t believe the result,” Robert said. “I should have died that night.”
Dr. Dashti points out that Robert’s case illustrates that a lot can be done both medically and surgically to save someone’s life when they are having a stroke. Every minute that emergency stroke care is delayed, millions of brain cells die. So bringing the patient to a Comprehensive Stroke Center as soon as possible is the most important step.
A lot to live for
Five months later, Robert is almost back to his normal self. He still has mild trouble with speaking, though it’s not noticeable until he tells you. Otherwise, he’s doing great, which he credits to his lifestyle before the stroke, as well as the team that saved him.
“I’m proof that a stroke can happen to anyone, but I’m also proof that if you treat your body well, you can bounce back,” he said.
In fact, he’s already back to exercising.
“I just finished my 35th-straight Kentucky Derby Festival miniMarathon,” Robert said.
Robert’s biggest goal is coming up this summer. His daughter, Elyse, who found him nearly dead in his chair, is getting married. Robert plans not only to walk her down the aisle, but also to give a speech.
“My speech therapist is helping me prepare,” Robert said. “I expect to be ready to go when the big day comes.”
“‘Thank you’ is never enough”
When Robert and Laura recall that fateful night, they feel nothing but blessed.
“The doctors, nurses, paramedics — there were angels all over that hospital that night,” Laura said. “‘Thank you’ is never enough.”
“This is one race I couldn’t do on my own,” he said. “A lot of people got me across the finish line, and for that, I’ll be forever grateful.”