COLUMBIA — Therapists told Mark McEwen that he would never tap his feet again. But last year, in his car, the former CBS weatherman tapped his foot to a song for the first time since his stroke in 2005.
McEwen spoke at Boone Hospital Center on Thursday about the experience of having a stroke, being misdiagnosed and fighting his way back to a full recovery.
McEwen told an audience of about 50 people that his doctors didn't think he would survive because of how long he was suffering symptoms. He did not receive treatment within the first few critical hours.
"I'd passed that time," he said. "All bets were off."
McEwen was first told by doctors that his symptoms were nothing more than the flu. Two days later, he suffered a stroke on an airplane.
"I can only describe it as being in a pool underwater," he said. "People think you're drunk. You walk funny and you slur your words."
McEwen's stroke was so severe, doctors told his wife to call the rest of his family in preparation for his death. After being in a coma for two days, McEwen remembers waking up to the faces of family and friends.
Although he now shows little sign of having had a stroke, his right arm still shakes. McEwen credited the months of therapy he received for teaching him to walk, talk and swallow again.
"He is one of the luckiest men on Earth," said Barb Miles, who listened to McEwen's talk. Miles has been a rehabilitation nurse at Boone Hospital Center since 1999.
McEwen has been active since his recovery in raising awareness of strokes. He has written two books on his experience, and in 2009, he was named an ambassador for the American Heart Association's Power to End Stroke campaign.
The most important thing to surviving a stroke, McEwen said, is educating yourself. Because his mother died of heart disease and his sister has also suffered a stroke, McEwen now knows there were warning signs he should have heeded.
McEwen had never thought seriously about his high blood pressure, joking, "I always thought that was part of the job."
Sudden stroke symptoms include face drooping, arm weakness and speech difficulty. Anyone who experiences any of those should call 911 immediately, according to the Power to End Stroke campaign.
McEwen said that his recovery has been a long journey but that he improves a little each day.
"There are people who aren't here (anymore), but we're here and that's good," McEwen said. "People think you look great, but you know inside what you've been through."
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