Reflections of a Survivor

By Brian Kahlbaugh





Please do not tell me I am the only one who has asked, after the fact, if somehow could I have prevented this bolt of lightening?


Certainly there must be many who have been hit by stroke for which the cause was not preventable. These folks could have done nothing to reduce the risk of stroke, let alone stop it.


Yet there are those who by virtue of lifestyles, habits, excesses, or whatever one wishes to call these things, have placed themselves at much higher risk for stroke and/or other medical problems. Naturally, this raises the question: to what degree may stroke be preventable?


We see, or hear of, statistics telling us that the vast majority of strokes can be prevented. A very strong argument can be made to that effect. People engage in behaviors which clearly place them in harms way for impending stroke. For example, smoking, unhealthy diet, sedentary lifestyle, and many other things.


I can not help but wonder, however, with the number of dynamics involved in the make-up of any single individual, including external and internal considerations, lifestyle habits, biologic, and physiologic factors, how realistically possible is it to isolate each of these factors and to claim the statistics regarding preventability of stroke?


Good common sense tells us that stroke risk is proportionate to the prevalence of risk factors characteristic to each individual. Good common sense therefore argues for the reduction of prevalence of risk factors, with the goal of reducing stroke risk (as well as other diseases).


All a fancy way of saying something like, “If you stop x,y, and z, you will be less likely of having a stroke. And if you start doing a, b, and c, you will also reduce your chances of having a stroke.”



The reader may be thinking, “Ok Brian, Mr. Smarty Pants Know-it-all goo-goo head!!! What about you? What gives you the right to criticize?” To which I would respond, “nothing.” I have no such right. As well, criticizing is not what I am doing.


For many years, I became habituated to some unhealthy behaviors. Most prominent would be the diet, and smoking. Constraints require me to focus. I will focus on smoking but would hope readers understand many dynamics make up the person.


I was a heavy smoker all of my adult life until just shortly after I stroked. Almost all of that time, I had been a one-and-a-half to two pack a day smoker. Got to the point where the last decade I hated it. Couldn’t stand the subtle, yet total control of my life and daily routines it had over me, let alone the terrible taste and smell.


When I woke up, a smoke would be the first thing I did for the day. Having a smoke or two, or three, would also be the last thing I did before bed each night. And I would work one in during the day at each opportunity. Most of the time, I created the opportunity.


I understand, just as well as the next heavy smoker, what it is like. I express my thoughts here from a place of understanding, not from criticism or judgment of others. Over the years, I have made feeble attempts at quitting. Truth be told, I got to a place before my strokes where I believed it was not possible for me to quit smoking, and was trying to adjust to the false belief that I would probably end up smoking until my life was over.


(pause), Interesting, and yet ironic.


The storm came through on November 4, 2008. There were three bolts of lightning, all followed by the rumbling of thunder!!! On that day I happened to be the target. . .and lightning bolts don’t miss their intended targets.


A little more than a month after that:


In a chat room on StrokeNet the host says, “Roll Call Please.”


And a newbie says, “Brian, survivor, Nov. 4, 2008, Minnesota, 46 yrs old.”


Doctors told me in my particular case, smoking was the one single biggest risk factor for having another stroke. I finally looked at this picture in my mind of my two kids growing up without a dad, and my wife without a husband. I also knew I never wanted to be struck by another bolt of lightning.

There was this sense of “Now or never dude!” I chose now. Since November 16, 2008, up to the time I am typing these words, I have been tobacco free. I am starting to think I might just have a chance at making it without smoking for the rest of my life. I am even starting to think that if I can continue tobacco free, my risk of another stroke, which might be the one to do me in, just might possibly be lowered enough so that my boys will grow up with me as their dad, and my wife will have me as her husband.


If I had never smoked before, would this have prevented my strokes?


We don’t know with certainty.


If I had never smoked before,

would my risk have been reduced for stroke?


Duh! (you are sooo brilliant Brian)


If I continue to remain tobacco free, will my risk of recurrent

stroke be substantially reduced?


Yes, big time!!!


It is possible to change, even if you have lost the ability to believe it for yourself. You can change. You can reduce your risk of stroke, recurrent stroke, and other diseases. I am living proof. Problem is it took stroke to provide the kick in the pants I needed. Fortunately, it was not the stroke that would end my life. It left me with another chance. For those who may be reading this who have not been introduced to stroke personally.Will it be that way for you?



Brian stroked November 4, 2008. 



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