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Brian Donaldson and his friend Price Missouri

As I close my eyes every night, I am thankful that my family had a great day, filled with health and happiness.

In January of this year my 51 year old business partner, mentor and friend, Price, had a massive stroke. He was in much better health than most of us and even ran the Boston Marathon last year.

Price was rushed to the hospital on a Sunday morning and because there was no way to know when his stroke occurred the "wonder drug" was not an available option. He would have to rely on his own body to deal with the stroke. Price's family and friends were given the news some days later that he was paralyzed on the left side and would likely not walk again.

Fast forward 9 months, Price is walking with a cane and last week passed his driver's test and has some of his freedoms back. The doctors believe that his strong recovery is due to his lifelong focus on his own health. I am proud to be a part of the Executive Leadership Team for the 2016 Metro St. Louis Heart Walk and champion Edward Jones' Heart Walk team this year. See more about the upcoming St. Louis Heart Walk.

My adventure with cardiac disease is not one that everyone reading this will experience. It's 2016 and looking back I truly feel like a survivor. I have had seven stents, one robotic bypass and suffered a Transient ischemic attack (TIA). 

I have had eleven angioplasties’ to either place stents or look at the status of my cardiovascular disease. In 2011, after suffering yet another event I was approached by UC Davis Medical Center to have a new robotic surgery procedure that is a less invasive bypass surgery. After the ten hour surgery was completed I was told that it took so long because there was a lot of scar tissue that made it difficult. Within six weeks I was ready to return to work as Operations Manager for an armored transport company in the Bay Area. My hours were long and the responsibilities and dangers were stressful. In July of 2011 I collapsed at work and they discovered the bypass had failed.  I was told that doctors placed a stent in the artery however it was just a matter of time before it would also be rejected by my body. I was told not to return to work and that I needed to avoid stress and over exertion all together.

Depression set in after being unable to work. I was given social security disability that barely covered the basic necessities. My family filed for bankruptcy and I knew our life needed to change.  My daughter and her family lived in Meridian, Idaho and my wife Sally and I decided that Meridian is where we wanted to go. We sold everything we could to new start and in December of 2011 we moved.          

Our move meant I needed to find a new cardiologist. After experiencing several cardiologists I was getting pretty good at knowing who fit me well. I found Dr. Bass at St. Luke’s and the first thing he suggested was to do an angioplasty to see what was going on so he could properly help me.  The angioplasty confirmed what the previous cardiologist had diagnosed, I had congestive heart failure. 

Dr. Bass felt that cardiac rehabilitation may help me and he was right.  The program of personalized exercise along with diet and heart education was making a difference, however my depression was not improving. Counseling was suggested and with the support from all of the wonderful health professionals I started feeling more positive. I realized that I had a choice; I could continue down my path of feeling sorry for myself or pick myself up and start over. I joined Mended Hearts Chapter 380 and found that by helping others I also helped me. 

In 2013, I was going to cardiac rehabilitation three days a week.  One morning as I got ready to go I felt out of sorts and by the time I got to “rehab” I was a little disoriented and very weak. As I walked into “rehab” I was approached by Amber an educator and RN. Amber saw that something was wrong and after evaluating me called for an ambulance because she recognized I was having a stroke. Amber saved my life because of her quick and knowledgeable reaction!

So here I am in 2016, the President of Mended Hearts. I have without a doubt the best people to work with, and can never thank my doctors, nurses, health professionals, family and friends enough.

On November 3, 2014, I was in nursing school, working as a student nurse at the VA hospital.  My first sign something was not quite right was when I was walking through the nursing station and both of my eyes went blurry.  I could still see color but I couldn’t see letters.  It was blurry for ~30 seconds before clearing up again. 

I was going to lunch and went to give a report to another nurse.  The nurse noticed while I was speaking that I slurred my speech.  I didn’t notice my speech was slurred at all.  It was at that time that I experienced a sudden sharp pain on the right side of my head.  The nurse then expressed concern that I was having a stroke and called a code.  I was told to sit in the nearby chair.

Within minutes a team of people arrived and evaluated me.  Paralysis started to consume my left side, my dominant side.  I had left-sided facial droop and I couldn’t move my left arm or leg.  They had to carry me to the stretcher.

I was taken to the ER where I underwent a CT scan to determine if it was hemorrhagic.  Since it was not, they gave me TPA to help dissolve the clot.

I was transferred to Harborview Medical Center where I underwent an angiogram and a thrombectomy in the cath lab.  The angiogram showed a blood clot in a large artery in the right side of my brain.  The thrombectomy entailed going through my femoral artery, and into my brain to remove the clot.

I spent a week in ICU followed by two weeks in rehab.  At 41 years old, I had to relearn how to walk, talk, and swallow.

Contrary to the more common causes of stroke, i.e. high blood pressure, high cholesterol, smoking, etc., my situation was quite different. After more than 12 weeks of testing, the doctors were finally able to pinpoint the cause as a rare autoimmune disorder called antiphospholipid syndrome.

As a nursing student, I’ve taken care of many patients who were stroke survivors.  I never thought it would happen to me. 

I continue to gain strength in my leg and arm.  I have returned to work though I am unable to do my work as an ortho tech, I am able to contribute to the ortho team on projects that are not physically demanding.

The key message I want people to take away from my story is stroke doesn’t discriminate.  Stroke effects people of all ages, ethnicities, professions, economical status, etc.  Know the signs and get help immediately. Act F.A.S.T.