Stroke survivor encourages other Black men to take their health seriously

Jonathan woke up one morning. He couldn’t see. He couldn’t walk. He fell to the floor.

The holidays were coming up, but Jonathan House wasn’t feeling particularly joyous. Jonathan was grief-stricken from the recent loss of his mother and stepfather, and stressed after losing his job of more than 20 years. On top of that, he also was recovering from COVID-19.

One evening in November 2021, after having dinner with his family, Jonathan fell asleep on the couch. He woke up in the middle of the night and felt dizzy, but went back to sleep. When morning came, Jonathan awoke again. Now he couldn’t see. He tried to walk. He couldn’t. He fell to the floor.

Jonathan called out to his family for help. They checked his blood pressure, which was very high (269/239, he said). The next call was to 911. The emergency medical technicians suspected he was having a stroke and took him to Norton Audubon Hospital.

Strokes are killing more Black men

Black Americans are 50% more likely to have a stroke than others in the U.S. and Black men are 70% more likely to die from a stroke as compared to non-Hispanic whites.

Two out of three Black Americans have at least one risk factor for stroke, according to the American Stroke Association.

Stroke risk factors

  • High blood pressure
  • Being overweight
  • Diabetes
  • High cholesterol
  • Sickle cell anemia
  • Smoking
  • Stress

In addition to grief and the stress of losing his job, Jonathan had risk factors from being diabetic and overweight.

“Mr. House, in particular, really exemplifies a lot of the challenges as far as stroke risks with the African-American community,” said Danny R. Rose, M.D., neurologist and stroke specialist at the Norton Neuroscience Institute. 

A quick stroke diagnosis

Jonathan arrived at the emergency department at Norton Audubon Hospital, which is a Primary Stroke Center certified by DNV. Unfortunately, since his first symptoms had appeared more than four and a half hours earlier, it was not an option to treat him with tPA, a drug used to break up a blood clot and restore blood flow to the brain.

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Jonathan’s stroke was unusual in the sense that the blocked blood vessel in his brain did not show up in diagnostic images.

Dr. Rose entered the room shortly after Jonathan arrived and made the diagnosis. Jonathan remembers their conversation:

Dr. Rose: “I see what’s wrong.”

Jonathan: “You haven’t even looked at me yet.”

Dr. Rose: “You had a stroke that’s affecting your eyes.”

Jonathan: “What do you mean?”

Dr. Rose: “You’ve got one eye going this way and one eye going that way.”

Jonathan remained under the watchful care of Dr. Rose and the stroke team for a week. Then he was cleared to go home. He was very pleased with his care.

“All the doctors and staff were beautiful,” Jonathan said. “They helped me get myself back together. They still call me and make sure I’m okay. And that means a lot because I’ve never been one to accept a handout. To see people that I never knew come in like they did – it’s a blessing.”

Making changes to prevent future strokes and a message for others

Jonathan and Dr. Rose talked about how Jonathan needed to make some lifestyle changes to reduce his risk of another stroke. This included eating healthier, exercising more, and working to reduce stress. Those three steps have helped Jonathan recover and find a new job. But they also gave him a different outlook on life.

“My motto is whatever’s meant to be, it’s going to be and whatever God’s got planned for me, it’s what he’s got planned for me,” he said.

Jonathan also has a message for other Black Americans

“We have to start checking our health because if you got kids and you got brothers and sisters and mothers and fathers that’s depending on you, they can’t depend on you if you’re not there,” he said. “And you can’t be no good to them if you ain’t no good to yourself.”

Although strokes are a top killer of Black men, they are treatable. Preventive care through a primary care can reduce your chance of stroke. Doctors say the most important thing you can do is have your blood pressure checked. If you have any risk factors for stroke, schedule an appointment with a primary care doctor, and then see that doctor regularly.

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