Mom’s Stroke Inspires NBA Star
Before Paul George was a two-time NBA All-Star, before he was a player on the Indiana Pacers, before he was the tenth player picked in the NBA draft or led his high school basketball team to a league championship, he was the 6-year-old son of a stroke survivor. His mother Paulette’s stroke at age 37 would change his life forever.
"I was perfectly healthy," Paulette said in an interview with the American Heart Association/American Stroke Association. "I never had high blood pressure or high cholesterol." Then one night there was a terrible headache and hours of vomiting before her twin sister called an ambulance to take her to the hospital. But all the lab work showed was a virus and she was sent home.
Once home, things turned chaotic as she lost her vision. Then there was a tingling sensation that started in her toes and moved up her legs. Two days later, she was in the hospital again completely paralyzed. Confused over the source of her problems, a doctor gave her less than 24 hours to live. Eventually, doctors discovered the culprit: stroke, but no specific cause was ever determined.
Everything changed after she returned home from the hospital and rehab. Paulette had been a stay-at-home mom who had walked her children — Paul and his older sisters, Portala and Teiosha — to school every day, but she was now confined to the hospital bed in her bedroom at home for nearly two years. "I could look at people, but that was the most I could do. I lost everything," she said.
Portala, age 13, Teiosha, 12, and their aunt took on the roles of family caregivers and did their best to shield Paul from their mother’s situation. But he knew.
"I remember every moment of it," Paul said in a Huffington Post blog by American Heart Association CEO Nancy Brown. "I was always there on hospital visits, right by her bed. When she got a hospital bed in our home, I would lay in my bed right next to her. I was there. I saw all of it."
Recovery was long and slow. Their house in Palmdale, California, became like a hospital room, with a bed, wheelchair and commode chair. Paulette couldn’t speak or do much for herself, yet being home — surrounded by family — made her feel safe and helped her heal.
Portala and Teiosha did much of the household duty, with Paul pitching in where he could. Eating dinner at the table, seated in her wheelchair and using her one good hand, was a milestone. Ditching the wheelchair for a walking cane was even bigger.
During it all, Paul was growing and eventually tried out for basketball at Knight High School. Having never played on a school team before, he started out on the junior varsity but soon moved up to varsity. By his junior year, he was a starter, and by his senior year, he was a bona fide star, leading the Knight High Hawks to the Golden League championship and being named the league’s most valuable player. He got scholarship offers from Georgetown and Penn State but ultimately he chose Fresno State where he could be close to home.
He did well enough his freshman season to be named to Sports Illustrated’s list of most entertaining players at the start of his sophomore season. At the end of that season, at age 19 and barely five years after he’d started playing basketball, Paul announced that he would enter the NBA draft in 2010. The Indiana Pacers drafted him with the tenth overall pick. A sports pundit at the time prophesied that Paul would eventually be the best known player from the 2010 draft.
Although at the time he was not considered an impact player, he was a starter by his second season. "I’ve always been underrated, and that always drove me to stay in the gym, to work hard and to continue to push myself the same way my mom had to fight through her adversity," he said. "Whenever I feel like I’ve had a bad day, I think about my mom and it strengthens me. I’ve got to keep going hard for my momma."
His aptitude for hard work has paid off: In the 2012-2013 season he was named most improved player in the NBA. He signed a new contract and was named to the East All-Stars for the 2013-2014 season. (He suffered a knee injury in August 2014 playing for Team USA and sat out most of the 2014-2015 season.)
With his career taking off, 24-year-old Paul is eager to share his fame with his mom, giving her a larger platform to spread awareness on how to prevent and beat stroke. That’s what led them to the American Heart Association/American Stroke Association.
At the 2014 NBA All-Star Game, it was Paul’s idea for the American Heart Association to be among two beneficiaries of the East’s prize money from the Saturday night skills challenges. Buoyed by his performance in the dunk contest, the squad earned $500,000. This past May, during American Stroke Month, mother and son teamed up on a public-service announcement with the American Stroke Association through the Ad Council.
"She always tells me that she really would love to do something big, and I want to make it happen," Paul said. "Telling her testimony of what she’s been through is really her passion. I feel like she was put in a position to be able to use her voice, and I want to be an extension of her voice to really get that out there."
"It’s been emotional and depressing, because I’m not the way I used to be and I can’t do the things I used to do," Paulette said. "But I’ve learned my limitations. I know what I can do, what I can take, my exhaustion level. I try to deal with life as it is. I have that will to fight.
"The harder you work, the better it gets," she said. "The happiest part of all is that we’re always together as a family — and that I’m still here and blessed to enjoy all that."
Paulette & Paul share each of their perspectives on her stroke:
Helping Kids Understand Stroke
Although most strokes occur in people over age 65, stroke rates in people 20-54 have increased since the 1990s (see "Alarming New Statistics," January/February 2012). That means more families, like the Georges, will need to explain stroke to their children. Here are some things to consider when doing that.
First, the explanation needs to be tailored to the age of the child. Very young children (0-4 years) probably won’t understand what’s going on and may feel confused and anxious. They will look to their parents or grandparents for reassurance and guidance. For some children, a brief explanation will suffice; others may ask for details. In an article in Stroke Connection, psychologist Ann Marie McLaughlin, Ph.D., cautioned that too much detail can be scary.
"Children ages 5-9 have a tendency to see the world in very egoistic ways," said Barry Jacobs, Psy.D., a clinical psychologist and author of The Emotional Survival Guide for Caregivers. "They may blame themselves for the parent’s stroke — ‘I made Daddy mad and he had a stroke.’ They subsequently feel guilty and sad. Their behavior may become either more withdrawn or more rambunctious as they struggle to cope with the situation."
Pre-teens and adolescents will have a better understanding of the stroke and may feel sadness and anxiety. They may or may not feel responsible to pitch in to take care of family responsibilities that they never had before. "For those in households of a single parent or grandparent, fear is common," said Connie Siskowski, R.N., Ph.D. at the American Association of Caregiving Youth. "It is normal for a child, particularly those in the care of a grandparent as they have already been through one trauma, to wonder, ‘What’s going to happen to me?’" They may try to protect, trying to prevent another stroke by minimizing stress. They may have trouble focusing in school and worry about their loved ones.
"Older adolescents are more likely to feel a sense of responsibility and to begin to set aside their own interests and pursuits in order to help the family," Jacobs said. "That may give them a sense of pride for playing a more important role, but it can also cause them resentment for being burdened with responsibilities that are preventing them from becoming more independent people."
Children are used to getting over their illnesses in a few days, but considering the long-term nature of most stroke deficits, adults should prepare them that stroke recovery may take months. McLaughlin points out that children may believe that very sick people quickly return to 100 percent because that is what they see on TV. It is also good to reassure them that stroke patients typically get better over time.
It is important not to minimize the effects of a stroke and prepare them that their parent or grandparent may be permanently changed. The physical changes such as paralysis are obvious, but a survivor parent is unlikely to have the same level of stamina. There may also be financial, cognitive, communication and psychological changes that require a child to adjust their behavior.
Getting children involved with the survivor helps them. For instance, it is good for them to visit survivors in the hospital once they are medically stable. Children may not know what rehabilitation is, so it benefits them to observe physical therapy. By watching the home care therapists, children can learn to assist with stretching exercises, putting on splints or other tasks.
It may benefit both survivor and child to engage in activities they enjoyed doing together before the stroke — make sure the activities are not beyond the survivor’s capabilities. You can involve the child or teen in the recovery process by letting them:
- Read to the survivor;
- Help with their exercises;
- Write a note to help the survivor remember items;
- Play cognitively stimulating games that work on memory or categorization.
As with everyone in the stroke family, the children come to a new normal that is different from their friends. And these changes may increase over time as multiple accommodations are required to help the disabled parent or grandparent. These accommodations may include changes in roles and routines or even changes in finances and living situations.
This information is provided as a resource to our readers. The tips, products or resources listed have not been reviewed or endorsed by the American Stroke Association.