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Life after Stroke: Bruce Hanson found his way back to woodworking, life

Published on May 05, 2018

The night of Aug. 17, 2017, following a dinner out with his wife Laurie, Bruce wasn’t feeling well at all. He chalked it up to possible food poisoning, but then he woke up in the middle of night and couldn’t feel his left hand. When he tried to stand and walk, he felt “seasick and off-balance,” he recalled. That’s when he and Laurie decided to get to the emergency department at Munson Medical Center, where he learned he’d had a stroke.

At the time, Bruce and Laurie, both recent retirees, had been planning RV camping treks to the southern part of the United States as well as out west. A talented woodworker and carpenter, Bruce also was in the midst of projects, which he kept up with after retiring from a long career in grocery store management. But the work he so loved and these trips to see family unfortunately had to be put on hold as the couple began navigating a new normal following Bruce’s diagnosis.

“I’m an active person. My truck was loaded up for a trim job. We were going to go to Alabama, to see Laurie’s parents and bring them back to Traverse City. Then we were going to go out west, and then to see our daughter, and spend three to four months traveling,” said Bruce, 62. “I felt really bad, physically, and I was angry. I didn’t feel good.”

Bruce spent a day and a half in the hospital and credits the staff on A7 with helping him through this challenging time. He also found that having one of his friends, a physician, visit him and be his health advocate, made a significant difference. “Everybody was so nice, especially the nursing staff. The staff was very, very good. They did an amazing job,” he said.

During his time at the hospital, which included a second two-night stay not long after his initial visit because of “blinding pain” in his head, Bruce learned that while he didn’t have heart disease, he has atrial fibrillation, or AFib. This is a type of irregular heartbeat, often caused when the two upper chambers of the heart beat unpredictably and sometimes rapidly. These irregular heartbeats can cause blood to collect in the heart and potentially form a clot, which can travel to a person’s brain and cause a stroke.

“My heart valve doesn’t close completely and I also have a thickening of the walls in my heart,” he said.

Bruce said he had a major stroke followed by a secondary one, likely when a clot broke loose.

The following months, throughout the winter, was a time of “slow recovery,” Bruce remembered. He could hardly stand at first, he had no feeling in his left hand and foot, and he endured near-constant and painful muscle cramping. He used a walker for a while.

“It was really small steps. I remember the first time I walked two blocks,” he said of learning to walk again. “When I look back, I can’t believe how bad I was … Before my stroke, Laurie and I used to walk from our house [near West Grand Traverse Bay] all the way up and around the hospital – every night.”

For a year, Bruce was in therapy. He worked with a local physical therapy clinic; part of this therapy involved doing something Bruce enjoys – playing golf. “I would try swinging golf clubs,” he said.

All of his rehabilitation helped him get to where he is today: walking, driving, and enjoying life again. He’s grateful for these rehab opportunities, which also included taking part in a support group at Munson Medical Center known as stroke club.

“It got me out of the house and doing something I could look forward to each month,” he said.

Today, Bruce is back to his wood-working projects. He even made a long-distance drive down south recently, to Georgia where his daughter lives. Basketball, however, is out of the question, joked Bruce, who is 6’ 5’’ tall.

“I’d like to think I can do whatever I want. But what I do now has changed,” he said.

His balance isn’t 100 percent of what it used to be. And he still experiences leg spasms and loss of feeling every now and again in his left hand, but overall he’s feeling good.

“I’m fortunate that I had general good health. And I’m stubborn as well. I had a support team around me, and I know I had access to things that not everyone has,” he said. “I have a pretty positive attitude.”

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