A miracle for Mr Hockey?


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Back when ice hockey was new to the American South in 1973-ish, with Atlanta (Flames) and Houston (Aeros) getting teams involving the sport on ice, I had this idea for a feature magazine story.

I could tell the story of the sporting franchises trying to make inroads in cultures where  ice was something to put in their mint juleps, and a puck was someone in Willie Shakespeare’s  A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

Maybe hockey would even come to New Orleans, where I was based, so I could get in on the fan action. (As a former player, the closest I could get to ice was the annual Holiday On Ice show that came to town every few years, set up a temporary rink and allowed Yankees like me to skate early Sunday mornings)

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I would get an interview with the Houston Aeros star player, Gordie Howe, who had been lured out National Hockey League retirement in his mid-40’s to play with the World Hockey Association. Maybe it had something to with playing with two sons, Mark and Marty. He was, after all, Mr Hockey, already a member of NHL Hall of Fame, and the namesake of the Gordie Howe Hat Trick – scoring a goal, an assist, and involved in a fight during one game.

I contacted the Houston Aeros, outlined my story, and they agreed to let me interview Gordie after a game. Like an addict too long from his drug, I was overdosed with images/sounds/smells from the game, when I walked into the locker room to find Mr Hockey straight out of the showers, glistening in his birthday suit. I remember being overwhelmed with the Adonis-like figure (in a non-rainbow way), and saying to myself:  I hope look that good when I’m 45.

Fast forward now through 41 years and you’ll find that Gordie and I have both had strokes, with his making news.

His stroke, according to his family, left him unable to walk or speak. He was described as ‘catatonic.’

They had mentally prepared for the end; his funeral, the eulogies, the things that are left unsaid, but you’re aware of.

That was the beginning of December of 2014. Fortunately the youngest of Gordie’s sons is a doctor and he saw some literature about a treatment in Mexico involving stem cells.

Now you’d think that with all that doctor training would produce some real-life scientific scepticism, but Dr  Murray Howe arranged to have Mr Hockey transported to Tijuana and get the treatment. And then:

“At Tijuana medical clinic where, on Dec. 8, the elder Howe sat straight up in bed just hours after an injection of about 100 million stem cells and demanded with an astonishingly strong voice that he needed to use the restroom, Murray Howe said.

“He says, ‘I’ll walk,’ and I said, ‘You can’t walk,’ ” Murray Howe recalled. “He says, ‘The hell I can’t.’ And he sits up and puts his feet over the side of the bed and stood up.

“If I hadn’t been there and seen that happen with my dad, I don’t know if I’d believe it either.”

Detroit  Free Press

There are people who don’t believe it, scientists who say with bravado, indignant spittle (because Science is on their side), this story is creating a false hope and raising hope for snake oil salesmen.

So the debate continues.

Can stem cells help cure the affects of stroke?

Or is it bunkum? You can’t fool Science.

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I would gladly try anything to be able to speak again. And if it’s good for Mr Hockey, it’s good for me. He managed at age 86 to score one-third of a Gordie Howe Hat Trick – a fight with stroke (which he won), without taking a penalty.

One final note about hockey as a sport:

aaaaaownload

 

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Aware of aphasia? Hell, I can’t get it out of my mind!


I hear that June is National Aphasia Awareness month in the US.

I’m aware of it the other 11 months as well as June. I’m only too aware of it outside the US since I live in the United Kingdom.

I wish mine would go away, constant companion that it is.

All this effort I have spent on redoing my brain. Since my stroke and resulting aphasia, I’ve learned about my brain, what it does, what it can do, what it does with a good blood supply, what it does now that I interrupted that blood supply, what it might do if I could get stem cells injected in it, what it does with medications.

Before Stroke (BS) I had little interest in the organ on top of my head. I knew it would work for me. It would hurt occasionally if I mis-used it. I used it primarily for the creative arts – weaving words and pictures with an active imagination.

The closest I came to studying the brain before BS was the case of Billy Milligan. His was a case of the brain so mis-firing because of child abuse, that he developed 24 separate personalities and acquired foreign languages written and spoken, martial arts, weapons expertise, and even an artistic flair.

I covered his story and later worked with him (just the one Billy after they re-did his brain) on a screenwriting project. The last I heard of him they were still going to make a film of his life.

I have learned so much about the brain, even that there is a Human Brain Coloring Book, Now £6.99 (RRP: £9.99).

I think I’ll give myself a treat after I save up some money.

Welcome to the city of Stroke-ville – where more times are bad than good


I did a lot of reading about strokes since one landed uninvited on my doorstep.

My daughter T gave me a book for that first Christmas following my stroke: Stroke Survivor, A Personal Guide to Recovery, by Andy McCann, and there’s a tone in it that everything is wonderful. Oh, there are tough times, Andy says, but he barely mentions any.

(I stopped reading about halfway through for fear the additional sugar overload would affect my diabetes)

There is no writing about the destruction of ego when what has always been with you departs; no frustration as you try to re-grip the old reality; try to get some purchase on trying to grab the phantom that is your old way of life; no writing of the emptiness of soul as you contemplate life without speech and limited mobility. You cannot see a tunnel, much less a light at the end it.

No, everything is hunky-dory with “positive thinking” the way Andy sees stroke survival.

And because he’s a Chuck Norris kind of man – martial arts and all that.

Because he survived and made a business of survival by saying positive things to people for large sums of money.

Maybe that’s the way The Stroke Association sees things – in its own sphere around which its version of the world revolves, the centre of which is The Stroke Association. Sure there are inspirational stories, but you’ve got take the bad times with the good. It’s called objectivity. And, objectively, I can say there more bad times than good in the city of Stroke-ville.

Then, in reply to my outraged emails I got a shovel-full of “apologies” and “unreserved apologies at any distress it may have caused me.” There was even an invitation to contact their media person to see how I might contribute. I thought I had explained that. There’s even a comment to this blog saying they apologise for ignoring me and try contacting their new editor (she’s “keen to hear from you” – that’s why they gave me a generic email rather her personal account).

I certainly didn’t expect to get involved in a dispute with The Stroke Association when I had a stroke. I thought they would be on my side. Now they’veapologised“.

Still, I can’t forget the line:  As you have not used our services and due to the demand, I regret we are not able to take your request further.”

I remember Kate Allatt, who came back from Locked-in Syndrome, re-telling of her feelings of total worthlessness, worthiness, helplessness, indignity, her complete reliance on family members and the guilt that consequently created, fear, the nightmares, the torments, the insomnia, the leg cramps and insufficient turning in her bed, the frustration… She could go on.

And so could I.

In fact, fellow stroke blogger Mindpop said it best:

Mindpop has made me famous. This past weekend, I was invited to Salt Lake City to speak for the Utah Stroke Symposium, thanks to a Mindpop reader.

I told the doctor and therapist audience to be encouraging to their patients. I haven’t always had encouraging care. Watch out, heartless medical staff, your patients are speaking.”

Watch out too charities. Those affected have a voice.

Self-doubt creeps in


I saw this during the week and I forgot to write down where it came from. I’m sorry, I’m using it without attribution, but it perfectly illustrates my mind at this point in time. Comment to me and the glory is yours for such an image!

“No thought has much meaning until it is written or spoken” – Harry Reasoner, CBS & ABC News anchorman

Reasoner was one of my writing heroes (along with Charles Kuralt). Harry and I had a glass of wine or two together in the basement in the building of where ABC News was broadcast from New York City in the early 70’s. He wasn’t as erudite at this meeting as I remember; he was supposed to be talking me into working for ABC News. But this quote from some stage of his long career rang true: I could think all I wanted about this Stroke Association project that I had created in my mind, but until I wrote something it wouldn’t have real meaning. ‘Spoken for meaning’ was not an option due to the stroke erasing my brain-to-tongue function. I think they call it aphasia.

Which brings us to the situation at hand: still no word from The Stroke Association about them using my extensive media career to its advantage.

One research project is now out suggesting there is a good chance people who have had strokes also have resulting depression. “Researchers defined depression as among other things: loss of interest and pleasure in doing things; feelings of sadness, helplessness and hopelessness…”

Well, I have the interest, but I’m feeling helpless at not getting the attention of The Stroke Association and that is leading to hopelessness.

This is really getting me down.

Maybe I am past my sell-by date, over-the-hill, or, dare I mention it, disabled by the stroke.

I re-sent the emails. As Del Boy said: “You know it makes sense.”

Overlooked in the New Years honours list:


Louis De La Foret OBE

Not for services to stroke.

Not for services to aphasia.

Not for services to blog writing.

Not for services to the NHS.

Not because I rescue dogs and give them a good life.

Not because I gave to Children In Need and Comic Relief.

Just because I’m an Ordinary Bloke Educated.

It only took 15 years, but I broke the class system in this country.

I enter a room filled with people like me, where our brains have lost their brakes


I walk into a community hall room that has been mostly used for crafts classes, filled with large tables and plastic-back seats.

It’s a sort of alcohol anonymous meeting for people who’ve had strokes put on by The Stroke Association. The idea is to get together for mutual support, compare damage done to our physical selves, exchange treatment horror stories and test our brain cells left or right. When a brain fails to respond to the controls as happens a lot with stroke, life suddenly is in free fall. You have to be taught how to apply the brakes.

£2 pounds please to cover the costs.

And you don’t have to say: ‘I have had a stroke’ as a form of confession – it goes without saying.

I was introduced to the group feeling like my defects – my lack of brakes – were on parade, until I met individuals who made feel my defects were just a badge to be worn to be a part of the group.

One woman came with a carer – I recognised her as being in the hospital when I was. She was in the ‘making tea’ classes we had to endure as part of our bizarre ritual to prove the people in white uniforms (rehab) we could take care of ourselves.

Some had walking canes to help with the muscles affected by stroke; others in wheelchairs for muscles that were unable to be controlled because of the stroke. Some could read, others could not. Almost every one had problems with speech in one form or another. One woman came with a vocaliser, an electronic device that audibly comes up with letter and words when she can’t find any. Like having a pocket Stephen Hawking with you.

In this situation you tend to self-assess, as I did, on the optimistic side – what you thought was a terrible twist of fate visited upon you, has a different scale of devastation when compared to others.

One person who I remember talking to was Jerry who spoke eloquently I thought and I assumed was part of The Stroke Association team, but five minutes into the conversation he mentioned that he had had a stroke five years ago. He had been a lecturer at a university. I managed to grizzle the words out though my lips commenting on his speech. He understood. He said he still gets memory loss and so people have to speak in short sentences or he gets brain overloads.

Note to myself: if I can speak like Jerry in five years I’ll become a voice-over artist specialising film trailers:

(Deep voice)

One day…

The brain didn’t run…

The way it used to.

Then…

I…

Forget…

What…

Comes…

Next.

Aphasia – the coming of the brain fart.

Coming soon at a multiplex theatre near you.

Catherine was right: the meetings were good for my speech.