Tyree Russell’s Why




It took a stroke for Tyree Russell to take his health seriously.

The wholesale car salesman from Chesapeake, Virginia, watched several relatives struggle with heart disease, but he didn’t realize a family history could increase his risk for it. “I thought I was invincible,” Russell said.

When he was diagnosed with high blood pressure at age 26, he didn’t bother to take the medication his doctor prescribed. He figured he didn’t need to because he played basketball every day, and he wasn’t overweight.

A decade later things had changed — he had a job that required a lot of travel, and he ate a diet heavy in high-sodium and fatty foods. He had packed on more than 30 pounds. Although he didn’t know it at the time, he also had high cholesterol and Type 2 diabetes.

“I was a ticking time bomb,” he said. And definitely not unique — African-Americans have the highest rates of high blood pressure of any population in the world.

On Jan. 14, 2011, Tyree woke up to use the bathroom, but suddenly he felt lightheaded and weak and clutched the bathroom counter for support as he began to fall. He called to his girlfriend to call an ambulance and rested on his bed as he waited for help to arrive.

Tyree, who is now 40, doesn’t remember much after he arrived at the hospital, and he didn’t learn until a few days later that he’d had an ischemic stroke.

His stroke was complicated by dangerously high blood pressure, which doctors struggled to get under control. Tyree spent 17 days in intensive care and was released after 41 days in the hospital, paralyzed on the right side and unable to see or hear clearly.

He was prescribed more than a dozen medications — blood thinners, drugs to control blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes. Doctors at the hospital recommended physical and occupational therapy for Tyree to regain his strength and mobility. But without insurance, he couldn’t afford the therapy sessions.

Living life in a wheelchair, the one-time basketball player grappled with depression and the possibility he might never recover.

“I’m not the type of person who likes people to do things for me and now I had to have someone to help me cook, clean and bathe,” he said.

When a friend offered to touch up the paint to cover the wheelchair scuffs on the walls, Tyree decided he’d had enough. He got out of the wheelchair and began working his way to the garage using a walker to get supplies to do it himself. The trip, which would normally take less than a minute, took him a half-hour and left him exhausted. But he was motivated to do whatever he could to regain his independence.

He reached out to family and friends for advice on building strength and improving his health through diet. He started using his walker to go to the mailbox, adding distance slowly as he built strength. Tyree changed his diet, swapping fast food and red meat for lean meats, whole grains and fruits and vegetables.

By October, just 10 months after his stroke, Tyree had lost 35 pounds and could walk for miles, although he still had a significant limp. Despite these physical gains, he still struggled with blurred vision, speech challenges, balance and difficulty using his right hand. In August 2012, he enrolled in the local community college, in an effort to challenge his brain, force him to use his right hand more and speak in front of others.

Researching services for a class assignment, Tyree learned about a stroke support group and the American Heart Association/American Stroke Association. Sharing his story and meeting other survivors motivated him to keep working toward his goal and feel grateful for what he had achieved on his own. He is motivated to educate others on how important diet and exercise are for health, a message he didn’t hear when he was younger.

“No one told me not to eat all those unhealthy foods I was eating, so I didn’t even think about it,” he said.

Today, his lifestyle changes have enabled Tyree to eliminate all but one of his medications. He checks his blood pressure twice daily to watch for any changes. He continues to exercise and build strength, though his right side is still weak.

“I still have a slight limp, but most people wouldn’t notice it,” he said.

Tyree has worked with his local AHA, helping develop community programs and sharing his story at local events.

His why? “Having a stroke really brought me back to life,” he said. “I want to be an inspiration to others and show them that they can change their lives.”

Everyone has a reason to live a longer and healthier life.

TELL US YOURS.

 

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.

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AHA-ASA Resources

The Support Network

When faced with challenges recovering from heart disease or stroke, it’s important to have emotional support. That is why we created a network to connect patients and loved ones with others during their journey.

Stroke Family Warmline

The Warmline connects stroke survivors and their families with an ASA team member who can provide support, helpful information or just a listening ear. We have trained several members of ASA's national call

Let's Talk About Stroke Patient Information Sheets

Let's Talk About Stroke is a series of downloadable patient information sheets, created by the American Stroke Association, that presents information in a question-and-answer format that's brief, easy to follow and easy to read.

Request Free Stroke Information Packets

Fill out this online form to request free information about a variety of post-stroke topics.

Caregiver Guide to Stroke

The Caregiver Guide to Stroke is meant to help caregivers better navigate the recovery process and the financial and social implications of a stroke.

Tips for Daily Living Library

This volunteer-powered library gathers tips and ideas from stroke survivors, caregivers and healthcare professionals all over the country who’ve created or discovered adaptive and often innovative ways to get things done!

Stroke Support Group Finder

To find a group near you, simply enter your ZIP code and a mile radius. If your initial search does not pull up any groups, try
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Departments

Stroke Notes

Stroke-related news you can use about new scientific findings, public policy, programs and resources.

Readers Room

Articles, poems and art submitted by stroke survivors and their loved ones.

Life Is Why

Everyone has a reason to live a longer, healthier life. These stroke survivors, caregivers and others share their 'whys'. We'd love for you to share yours, too!

Everyday Survival

Practical tips and advice for day-to day living after stroke.

Life At The Curb

A unique perspective on survival by comedian and stroke survivor John Kawie.

Simple Cooking

Cooking at home can be a daunting task, but a rewarding one for your diet and lifestyle (and your wallet). Making small changes in your diet is important to your heart health. Here are simple, healthy and affordable recipes and cooking tips.

Support Showcase

Our new department highlighting the good work being done by stroke support groups from around the nation. If you are part of a successful support group we should consider featuring, let us know!