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Trent Campbell: Recovery from strokes brings a new outlook on life

Do you want to gain a new outlook on life? Are you interested in changing your priorities? I recommend having a stroke. I had one, and it did wonders altering my perspective.
On second thought, I actually had two strokes or many more (more on that later), and I suggest avoiding a stroke any way you can. A stroke is debilitating, frustrating, and very, very frightening.
But I am here to tell you it is possible to have a stroke and go on loving life, living life, loving family and friends, and being loved by family and friends.
My story begins on a perfect Vermont fall day. It was October of 2018, and I headed to Middlebury College to photograph three sporting events. I started with field hockey, changed to men’s soccer, and then made the long walk to football.
It was during the walk that I first felt a little strange. I was oddly tired and felt unsteady on my feet. Halfway to the game, I veered off the main path to take a seat on a big metal storage box, the nearest makeshift resting spot I could find. I made it to the game, stumbling a little on the way, and photographed the first half.
At half-time I left, eager to later meet up with my grown son, Owen, to go to the movies. I took the tiring walk back to my car and headed home.
After a short rest, I started to get ready to meet up with Owen. Before I had one shoe on, I promptly threw up. I otherwise felt fine and blamed it on a not-so-fresh turkey sandwich I had eaten for lunch.
I cleaned up and drove to Weybridge to get him at his mom’s house and when I got there, I stood and talked to him and his mother for a while in the front door. I started to feel nauseous again and turned and threw up again off of her porch.
Luckily, Owen had better sense and said we should reschedule and I should go home, which I did. Things went well the rest of the afternoon, and I went to bed that night feeling fine.
However, I woke up to go to the bathroom at 2:30 a.m. and couldn’t make it 10 feet to the bathroom without getting help from my wife, Nikki. My legs just weren’t working. At 5:30, I woke up again and was able to stumble to the bathroom by myself. I threw up some more and went back to bed wondering what was going on.
Nikki and I agreed that I would sleep a little more and then we would figure out what to do. By morning, what to do turned out to be going to the Emergency Room at Porter Hospital. This was very scary, and I didn’t know what was going on.
At the ER, the doctor, who I knew outside of the hospital, was very concerned about what he was seeing. He certainly thought I wasn’t myself. He ordered a CT Scan, and it couldn’t confirm exactly what was happening at this moment, but it did show an old stroke I had in the past. He suspected I was having a stroke again.
The doctor gave us two options — wait at Porter until it was possible to do an MRI and consult with neurologists on Monday or go to University of Vermont Medical Center and do the same immediately. The diagnosis was frightening enough to warrant an immediate trip to UVM via ambulance.
A gauntlet of neurologists met me at the ER and confirmed the past stroke and fairly quickly confirmed that I had just had another one. An MRI reinforced their thoughts and I was admitted to the hospital.
I was feeling overwhelmed, but with my supportive wife by my side, I patiently awaited more news. Not much came. The doctors had no explanation for the strokes. Without further testing, which would come later, they theorized that high blood pressure and uncontrolled Type 2 diabetes were the culprits. The doctors prescribed new medications and said a trip to the acute rehab hospital was probably the next step.
I gladly took the short ambulance ride to Fanny Allen, the rehab hospital, where I had a private room and an attentive staff. At the hospital, I would undergo three hours of therapy a day to treat my problems with balance, walking, and arm and hand use, which were debilitated by the stroke. Luckily the kind of stroke I had (a cerebellar stroke) didn’t affect my speech or thinking.
Just a few mornings after arriving, I turned on my TV and saw reports of the mass shooting at a synagogue near Pittsburgh. And I sobbed. Almost uncontrollably. I couldn’t believe this was the world my children would continue to grow in.
The hospital psychiatrist stopped in to see me that afternoon, and I explained how I had been feeling. He was sympathetic but reminded me that for every act of evil, there were many acts of beauty and love in the world. He told me to just look at the hospital, which was full of people who woke up every morning, tied their shoes, and went in to work to help people like me.
I agreed, and luckily got to visit with all of my four children in the next few days. I told each of them what the doctor had said and then told them how proud I was of the people they had become. How happy I was to be their father and how much I loved each of them.
I had always believed these things, but my illness had prompted me to speak them out loud. Score 1 for the stroke.
Acute rehab means having at least three hours a day of therapy with Occupational and Physical Therapists. It was hard work. With an Occupational Therapist, I was relearning how to do simple tasks that were normal for me in the past. I worked in the kitchen, folded laundry, and tried to relearn to use my hands, which were affected by the stroke.
With the Physical Therapists, I was relearning how to walk. Pretty important stuff. So most days were pretty busy, and pretty tiring, and very important. Some days I put on a pair of harness shorts, which helped support me when I worked very intensely on a treadmill.
I was not a fan of treadmill days, but I was a fan of all the amazing people who worked at the hospital. Not just the therapists, who helped me so incredibly, but the nurses too, who helped me do everything from get the proper medication to getting dressed. My feelings toward these people is really beyond words.
On my next to last day at the hospital, I met with the hospital psychiatrist and sobbed again, thinking about saying goodbye to these wonderful people. Nikki and I both sobbed when we drove away the next day.
Finally back at home I worked hard with OT and PT from Addison County Home Health twice a week. After three months, I started outpatient PT and OT at Porter. Through it all, Nikki has been my rock. She visited me every day in the hospital and kept the household running and did everything else. We also have to thank friends who made meals for us after I returned home.
The big lesson I learned through all of this was that even though we have to rely on ourselves first, we have to rely on each other. Our family, our friends, our neighbors, our coworkers, and even strangers. We all need each other in this world. And someday, I hope I can repay all those with whom I used up so much of my need.

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