Running to Raise Awareness about Stroke

David with his occupational therapists Erica Grabowski, OTR/L

David & occupational therapist Erica Grabowski, OTR/L

David Bertagnoli was a young, active man of 24. By day he was a civilian employee for the U.S. Army at Fort Dix in New Jersey where he planned outdoor adventures for soldiers in need of some R&R. By night and weekends, he was an active hiker, climber and adventurer.

Then everything changed for the Chicago native.

David went to the emergency room at a community hospital with a pounding headache “that seemed to have come out of nowhere.”

He was on antibiotics for a nasty, resistant infection he’d contracted a month earlier and an ongoing gastrointestinal disorder was acting up. He thought a combination of factors including dehydration  were at the root of his headache, but the ER doctors found something much more serious.

“I had a clot in my brain and I had suffered a major stroke,” he recalls. “I found myself being transported to Jefferson Hospital for Neuroscience in Philadelphia. My brain was hemorrhaging and I needed surgery.”

David came under the care of neurosurgeon Ashwini Sharan, MD, and Jefferson’s experienced stroke team. Dr. Sharan performed a craniotomy to remove the blood clot from David’s brain, a measure that the young man credits with saving his life.

Still, he the stroke had done significant damage.

“The stroke paralyzed my dominant right side. I couldn’t walk and I couldn’t talk,” David says.

But at Jefferson and the Jefferson Acute Stroke Center, David was at one of the nation’s most advanced and acclaimed centers for the entire continuum of stroke care. As soon as possible after his surgery, David began rehabilitation.

The Stroke Specialty Program of the Comprehensive Acute Rehabilitation Unit at Jefferson provides our patients with medical care as well as emotional, social, psychological and physical rehabilitation to help them reach their optimal independence and return to their home and community.

Nineteen days after he arrived at Jefferson, David was able to say thank you to his care team as he walked out of the hospital. He moved back to Chicago to continue his rehabilitation with the help and support of his family.

“I started climbing again at 13 months, rafted at 18 months and now I have now recovered nearly all my abilities,” David explains. “On March 17, 2013, I ran my first distance race – the New York City Half Marathon. I wanted to prove to myself I could do it and set a goal of finishing in under 2 hours. My finish time of 1:45:24 put me in the top 20 percent of all finishers and the top third for my age group.”

Now, David is working to increase awareness about stroke is raising money for stroke research.

He explains that stroke is the fourth-leading cause of death in the United States and every four minutes, someone will die from one. Moreover, every 40 seconds someone in the U.S. has a stroke, that’s about 795,000 strokes a year.

Stroke is the leading cause of disability in the country.

“There are 7 million stroke survivors in the United States and I am one of them,” David says.

And he has will be joining Team Jefferson for the Strides for Stroke 5K on Sunday at the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

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