Stroke survivor warns others

HOWLAND — The stroke took Paul Capito by surprise.

“I didn’t have any symptoms,” Capito, 72, of Howland, said. “I felt good that night when I went to bed. I didn’t have a headache, I didn’t get sick. I ate. We had dinner with our friends that evening.”

The retired Denman Tire repairman said he used the bathroom at 1:30 a.m. and still felt great. About an hour later, he tried to roll over in bed but couldn’t. His right arm refused to work. Panic set in. He tried to call out to his wife, Diane.

“He couldn’t wake me. So he punched me,” Diane said.

“I had to take my left arm and punch,” Paul said. “I felt bad about it but I couldn’t talk. I was thinking, ‘Please help me!'”

Diane called 911 for a harrowing winter ride to St. Elizabeth Youngstown Hospital in the early hours of Dec. 28, 2017.

“We literally skated down 422 to the hospital,” she said.

Doctors in Youngstown set up a Skype call with a doctor in Cleveland. They found that a piece of plaque had broken off and blocked the flow of blood to Paul’s carotid artery. The next few days were spent in the ICU.

On Feb. 12, 2018, Paul underwent surgery on his carotid artery. It was so bad that what normally would be a one-hour surgery took four, he said. A few days later, he was admitted to Hillside Rehabilitation Hospital in Howland to begin the long road to recovery.

Diane said they chose Hillside because of previous experience — hers.

“Twenty years ago, I had a total hip replacement. I came here. I was afraid I was never going to walk again,” the retired surgical and dermatology office nurse said.

At first, in pain and not liking being put through her therapy paces, she called a friend who was a Howland police officer to bust her out.

“He said, ‘You can leave, but I’m not going to get you out.’ Thank God, I stayed,” she said. “If I had not come here, I wouldn’t have gotten out of the recliner and never moved again because it hurt.”

“I don’t ever want to see this place close,” Paul said. “They have done so much, not just for me but for everyone. Everyone comes so far here. … They don’t give up on you. But it’s hard if you don’t cooperate.

“The main thing is therapy,” he said. “It’s very, very important.”

A stroke can rob a person of both physical and mental capabilities. When he was wheeled into Hillside a little more than a year ago, he hadn’t yet recovered his ability to walk. He attacked his rehabilitation with determination.

“I’m very stubborn. Don’t tell me I can’t do this,” he said.

“It has a happy ending, but it was tough. Mentally, it was tough. I had to stop doing everything. I learned a lot of things we take for granted (even simple, everyday tasks),” he said.

“I shaved him,” Diane said.

“I don’t know if you remember the first time you shaved — it was worse than that,” Paul said.

Hillside therapists fixed Paul up with alternate ways to do things while working to close the physical and cognitive gaps strokes induce.

One of the first exercises Paul tried at Hillside was walking up and down a flight of four or five steps. He got the hang of walking up steps. But when he turned around to come back down, something weird happened. He leaped.

“My mind told me to jump,” he said.

“You did that at the post office, too,” Diane said.

“At home, she wouldn’t let me go down the basement. I went anyway. I sat on the steps and bumped my way down.”

Like other stroke patients, he had to learn little tricks to bring his brain back in line. “Now I look straight ahead because if I look down, I want to jump,” he said.

When he talks, sometimes, the word won’t come. Paul appears agitated, scratching his right forearm or air-typing letters, until he can bring the thought into focus.

“The therapist told me don’t let him dwell on the missing word,” Diane said. “Ask him what he’s talking about and give him a word. He’s gotten to a point that he doesn’t need me now and I keep forgetting that.”

“When he can’t do something, he’ll get so frustrated and he’ll snap,” Diane said. “He’s gotten better because of therapy.”

Moods can spike blood pressure, a major factor in causing strokes. A therapist told Paul he could help control his blood pressure by finding his “happy spot.” Paul carries two photos of his great-grandson, Robbie, 9 months, in his shirt pocket. When frustrations mount, Robbie comes to the rescue.

They’ve also joined a stroke patient support group at Hillside, where both patient and spouse learn what to expect and how to overcome the obstacles from those who’ve been there, and in turn offer their own help.

Nearly 1 1/2 years later, he’s still restricted from things such as climbing ladders and lifting anything heavier than 25 pounds. But at least he can drive again.

“He hates my driving,” Diane said.

“I hadn’t golfed for about two years, because I couldn’t,” Paul said. “I went out three weeks ago. I was able to make contact with the ball and I had goosebumps. I went out last week and hit the ball good. In fact, I made three birdie putts.”

He’s also back to scoping out garage sales for his collection of old toys.

Paul used to do magic. He’s relearning how to do effects using his left side since his right isn’t reliable anymore.

“I’m back to pretty much normal now,” he said.

“Since I’ve had my stroke, I can’t believe how many people have died from stroke,” Paul said. “They think they’re too young to have a stroke.”

He shook his head. “I had no symptoms. … It’s just great to be taking a breath at all.”

bcole@tribtoday.com

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