Growing Up in a Stroke Family

Ashley Park Pryor was five years old and her sister, Lisa, was three when their father, Steve Park, had a hemorrhagic stroke and brain surgery as the result of a ruptured AVM. Overnight, the Park family’s lives changed dramatically.

Sisters Lisa Park and Ashley Park Pryor

Studies show younger people are having strokes more often than even a generation ago. As a result, more children are being raised in stroke families. And we’ve talked to enough survivor and caregiver parents to know that they are concerned with how the stroke affects their children. With that in mind, we talked with two sisters about their experience growing up in a stroke family.

Ashley Park Pryor was five years old and her sister, Lisa, was three when their father, Steve Park, had a hemorrhagic stroke and brain surgery as the result of a ruptured AVM. Overnight, the Park family’s lives changed dramatically. Steve could no longer work in refrigeration and air conditioning repair, which had provided a comfortable life for his family. The girls’ mother, Charlene, who had been a stay-at-home mom, had to go to work to support the family. They went from enjoying a secure middle-class life to struggling to keep their house and car and even to put food on the table. “It was a lot of beans and potatoes and hamburger for the first couple of years,” Charlene said. It took nine months before they started receiving Social Security Disability benefits.


“I think Dad’s stroke changed my childhood completely,” said Ashley, who is now 27 and lives in North Texas with her husband. “When he went in for surgery to remove the AVM, I had to stay with friends of the family. It was the first time I had ever spent any significant time away from home, and I did not adjust well to it.” After Steve came home, the carpets were removed and toys had to be put away so he wouldn’t trip. Because of weakness on one side, he could no longer pick the girls up or chase them or do other “dad-things.”

“I feel that Lisa and I had to grow up faster than other kids our age,” Ashley said. “For instance, we immediately started doing our own laundry and other chores around the house. I’m pretty sure no other girls at my school were regularly mowing the lawn and helping with plumbing, air conditioning and car maintenance.”

A positive effect of their father’s stroke was that the girls got to see their father more. “Before the stroke, Dad worked pretty long hours,” said Lisa, now 25 and living in North Texas. “After the stroke, he was the stay-at-home parent. He was always there to help me with homework or anything else I needed.” The stroke happened so early in both girls’ childhood, it was just something that was part of him. Lisa has some fuzzy memories of the pre-stroke life, “but they’re really indistinct. In terms of actual distinct memories, this has always been the norm,” she said.

A different kind of education


The Park family

Despite his stroke, Steve still knew how to fix things, and Ashley became his “extra hand.” In the process, she became adept at auto and air conditioning repair as well as plumbing. “He still taught me things that dads teach,” she said. “He taught me to drive, change a tire, change the oil. Because of his lessons, I know how to parallel park in very tight conditions. He taught me how to fish, including gutting and cleaning what we caught.” Even though she’s married and no longer lives with her parents, she and Steve recently replaced the brakes of Charlene’s car.

 Early on, living with a stroke survivor showed Ashley how much discrimination there is toward people who are different. Charlene recalled being at the grocery store with the girls and seeing a disabled person, and Lisa asked if he’d had a stroke. “I told her I didn’t know,” Charlene said. “And then she said, ‘We don’t want to stare.’ In school both girls gave up PE time to work with the developmentally disabled children.”

The family’s situation taught the daughters the value of determination. “I know my parents are really strong to have something so life-changing happen to both of them, and yet they worked with it. Neither of them ever gave up,” Ashley said.

When it became clear he could no longer work as a repairman, Steve went back to school. “Seeing Dad go back to school had a huge impact on how I view education,” Lisa said. “He was incredibly diligent and dedicated to his studies, so that was an inspiration for me to try as hard as I could, too.” Lisa recently graduated from Texas Women’s University.

The stroke affected the girls’ view on gender roles because their mother and father essentially switched places after the stroke: “Dad was home taking care of my sister and me and Mom was working. Before, it was the opposite.” Ashley said. “I think helping Dad with the cars, plumbing and air conditioning also impacted my views on what tasks are gender-segregated.”

“I’m pretty sure no other girls at my school were regularly mowing the lawn and helping with plumbing, air conditioning and car maintenance.”

Recently Ashley was diagnosed with asthma. “I like to think I follow Dad’s example of not focusing on or mourning all the things I can’t do now. Instead I try to focus on figuring out what all I can still do, despite the asthma.”

Another dad-thing Steve did for Ashley — walking her down the aisle when she got married a few years ago.

Advice for others

Charlene remembers how scared the girls were that they were going to lose their father, so she took them to the hospital after surgery, even though they could not go in the room. “My advice to parents is don’t hide anything from your children,” she said. “That is the worst thing you can do. I couldn’t believe the relief on their faces when they saw that Daddy was still alive.”

“When you’ve been through that kind of trauma,” Steve said, “everything else is secondary — bad grades, car wreck, losing a job. I think they learned that young and grew up with a strong set of values. I think we all learned that relationship matters more than things and money.”

Stroke Connection. Get the app for free.


- Advertisement -

This link is provided for convenience only and is not an endorsement or recommendation of either the linked-to entity or any product or service.

AD. Amramp Making Life Accessible. 20 years. Be accessible to everyone. Protect your clients & their caregivers from slip and fall accidents. 888-715-7599. Click here for more info.

AD: American Stroke Association-American Heart Association logo. Did you know that about 1 in 4 stroke survivors have a second stroke? Learn more.


Ad: American Heart Association logo. American Diabetes Associaiton logo. Know diabetes by heart logo. Living with diabetes? Inspire others. Submit story button.


AD. American Heart Association logo. Know your blood pressure numbers. And what they mean. Gain Control.  Learn more.


Ad: American Heart Association Support Network. Facing recovery after a stroke or heart disease diagnosis can be overwhelming. You are not alone. Our community is here for you. Join us today.


Edit ModuleShow Tags

Stroke Rehabilitation

Making the Best Decisions at Discharge After Stroke

The type of rehabilitation and support systems a survivor receives at discharge can strongly influence health outcomes and recovery. In this, the first part of a two-part series on stroke rehab, we offer guidance for the decision-making process required when it’s time to leave the hospital.

What to Expect from Outpatient Rehab

After stroke, about two-thirds of survivors receive some type of rehabilitation. Outpatient therapy may consist of Several types of therapy. Whether a patient is referred to inpatient or outpatient therapy depends on the level of medical care required.

What to Expect in Stroke Rehab

Following a stroke, about two-thirds of survivors receive some type rehabilitation. In this second of our two-part series, we want to alleviate some of the mystery, fear and anxiety around the inpatient rehab part of the stroke recovery journey.
Edit ModuleShow Tags Edit ModuleShow Tags

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.

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.

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

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 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.

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.
Edit ModuleShow Tags

Stroke & Parts of the Brain

When Stroke Affects the Occipital Lobe

Our occipital lobe, the smallest of the four lobes of the cerebral cortex, controls how we visually interpret our world.

When Stroke Affects the Cerebellum

The cerebellum contains 80 percent of our neurons. Its job seems to be to make things better. We talked with neuroscientist Jeremy Schmahmann about how stroke affects the “little brain.”

When Stroke Affects the Parietal Lobe

The parietal lobe helps us make sense of sensory information, like where our bodies and body parts are in space, our sense of touch, and the part of our vision that deals with the location of objects.

When Stroke Affects the Frontal Lobe

Of the four lobes that make up the cerebral cortex, the frontal lobe is the largest. It plays a huge role in many of the functions that make us human — memory, language, movement, judgment, abstract thinking.

When Stroke Affects the Temporal Lobe

The temporal lobe has several functions, mainly involved with memory, perception and language.

When Stroke Affects the Brain Stem

The brain stem serves as a bridge in the nervous system. It sits at the top of the spinal column in the center of the brain. When a stroke happens there, it can cause a few different deficits and, in the most severe cases, can lead to locked-in syndrome.

When Stroke Affects the Thalamus

The thalamus can be thought of as a "relay station," receiving signals from the brain’s outer regions (cerebral cortex), interpreting them, then sending them to other areas of the brain to complete their job.
Edit ModuleShow Tags


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.

Helping Others Understand

Stroke affects people differently and many of the effects of stroke can be complicated. Helping friends and family understand how a stroke is affecting a survivor can help everyone involved.

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!