Zak Gowans is happy that his dad, Ben, successfully survived a stroke.
By Corbin Smith
There are very few things that can happen in a person’s life that can flip it completely upside down. Receiving a cancer diagnosis or the death of a loved one are just two examples. There is one, though, that many do not realize affects so many people each day.
Due to this fact, each May the world celebrates Stroke Awareness Month, reminding us the importance of being able to recognize and react to a stroke.
In 2016, strokes were the second leading cause of death in the world, amounting to almost 6 million deaths worldwide. Next month, some 65,000 Americans will experience a stroke; most unaware they are even at risk!
Since it is close to impossible to know when a stroke will strike, the National Stroke Association has created an easy-to-remember acronym called F.A.S.T to help identify the symptoms of a stroke. By knowing and quickly following F.A.S.T when you suspect someone is having a stroke, you could literally save someone’s life.
An Unlikely Hero
March 23, 2019 started as a normal day for Ben and Zak Gowans. Zak, the videographer for the College of Nursing’s media team, was spending some time doing homework in his room. His dad, Ben, having spent the day at his parents’ home, had just sat down on his bed to watch Avengers: Infinity War.
After a few minutes, wanting a break from homework, Zak came into the room and sat down on the bed to watch the movie with his dad. “The way we were laying, we couldn’t see each other. Then he sat up and looked at me. I saw his pupils were huge and he looked really confused. All I could ask was, ‘Are you okay?’” says Zak.
From Ben’s perspective he says, “I remember sitting there and thinking ‘I’ve seen this movie before but it doesn’t make sense what’s happening.’ I looked at my hands, and they were like someone else’s hands. They were moving oddly, not responding quite right, so I sat up a little and looked over at Zak.”
Zak jumped up, turned the movie off and ran over to the other side of the bed. “He couldn’t speak. I knew it was something with his brain, because he was acting very strange,” says Zak. “As I called 911,” Zak laughs, “My dad even started shaking his head no.” “It was because it was going to be expensive,” jokes Ben.
Within the next ten minutes, the paramedics arrived and Ben’s wife got back home from the grocery store to a great surprise. From the moment they arrived to when he made it to the hospital, he was bombarded with questions. “Every question they asked I knew the answer too, but the words wouldn’t come out of my mouth. I knew what to say but I couldn’t communicate it,” says Ben.
Stroke of Luck
The next few hours were filled with uncertainty and medical tests. He was given a CT scan to see what type of stroke he was having and where the blood clot was in his brain. He was offered a potentially dangerous clot-busting medicine to begin dissolving the clots.
After that, the emotional trial began. “I remember the first night. I was in a dark room and I couldn’t fall asleep. I remember laying there thinking that I wish I had just died. This was going to be a terrible life, and I didn’t want to do that. I just wished I had bled out,” says Ben.
Ben was comforted by his family on his way to recovery.
He had a long line of people rooting for him, though, not letting him give up. His wife, Julie, stayed with him all night in the ICU and told him, “I’m not done with you, you can’t leave yet.” The next morning a steady stream of family members and neighbors from the community came in and helped strengthen him.
Ben amazed doctors and physical therapists by how quickly he regained his movement. On the other hand, they were puzzled with how a healthy 45-year-old man had suffered a stroke. Through some tests, they found an 8-millimeter hole in his heart, where a tiny clot had gotten through and shot straight up to his brain, causing the stroke.
After an operation to close the small hole, Ben is living a fairly normal and healthy life. He now laughs about the experience saying, “We joke about it all the time, it’s just good times. I don’t want to be sensitive about it, that’s just my personality.” Even in the face of hardship, Ben lives his life with a smile on his face.
Ben is very thankful to the nurses he had at Mountain View Hospital in Payson, Utah. “They lifted my spirits quite a bit and they were also very attentive,” he says. He is especially thankful, though, for the swift reaction of Zak. “I’m very fortunate that Zak was able to recognize the symptoms,” he says. Who knows if he would be here today without Zak’s actions?
Although Zak is not a nursing or medical student, he was able to save a life by simply knowing stroke symptoms and how to react. A stroke can hit in any moment, and it is important that we also know what to do, in case we need to become a hero in an instant.
Follow the link below to learn more about the risks as well as how to recognize and react to a stroke.