A Routine Choke Hold Lead To A Damaged Carotid Artery And A Stroke with Matthew Jacob

AIH 16 | Fighting Through Stroke

 

Matt Jacob has an eerily similar story to Sean Entin. He was a practitioner of MMA and ended up having a stroke as a result of damage to the carotid artery from a routine choke hold. Practicing chokes is an everyday occurrence in the MMA world, and having a stroke from the practice is rare. The outlook was grim, but Matt fought through it all and was back to work within ten months. In his own words, Matt says, “I proved them wrong.”

 

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A Routine Choke Hold Lead To A Damaged Carotid Artery And A Stroke with Matthew Jacob

We’ve got Matt Jacob coming on the show. Years ago, his wife reached out to me. She found me in an article with Dan Henderson in ESPN because her husband suffered a similar injury as mine and also suffered a massive stroke. Ironically, it’s crazy because we could have been brothers. We look alike. He’s better looking, but the fact is that he got choked out and suffered a stroke. When I first connected with Matt and we did a FaceTime, he couldn’t even pronounce his name. He couldn’t remember his wife’s name. He didn’t know his kids. It was crazy. I was in tears trying to get a word out of him and trying to make talk. Right now, he pronounces everything perfectly. He’s back to work. He’s an analyst in New York City. Check him out because he is inspiring and yet very smart. Just a great all-around dude. He’s one of those guys you can hang out on a Sunday and have a beer with all day, and he’ll keep your attention because he’s that much fun.

I’m Elsa Ramon with Sean Entin and Producer, Taylor Smith joining us. We are talking to somebody who has a tremendous amount of parallels with Sean’s story as far as how they were injured, what the injury led to, and their lives now. Matt Jacob is with us and Matt’s wife was the one who found Sean through his stroke support groups online. She reached out to Sean because I’m sure she was quite shocked at the parallels her husband and Sean had as far as their journeys were concerned. Matt, thank you so much for coming on and telling the world your story.

Thank you for having me.

Your wife, Lauren, was the one who reached out to Sean when she started looking for some support online after you had a stroke. Is that correct?

Yes, she reached out to Sean. I spent about a month in the hospital. During that time, she was looking for people to speak to and reach out to and she found Sean. The parallels that she picked up was amazing, our stroke. Sean had gone through it a few years before. One thing that was nice for Lauren is that she saw the recovery part and got an understanding of how this can go for us.

Tell everybody what happened and what you were doing and how you found yourself in the hospital after having a stroke.

I was taking Jiu-jitsu classes. I took a class that day. However, I don’t necessarily think that it happened that day. It’s probably weeks before. In Jiu-jitsu, you get choked essentially.

They try to choke you out. That’s part of the training you’re learning and you’ve got to defend yourself against this choke out.

We were not necessarily doing the chokes that day. The choke was probably weeks or days before.

Were you in a class? Were you training?

Yes, and that’s the thing. That day maybe I got choked, I don’t know. I do remember it was probably a few weeks before we were very intentionally doing chokes.

It wasn’t the first time. You had been training in Jiu-jitsu classes a couple of times.

Part of what helps is being naive towards recovery. Click To Tweet

I’ve been doing it for four years before. When I had the stroke, we were hanging out with my family and friends at the lake near us. I went to the bathroom and I noticed that my vision was going in my one eye. That’s very strange. I don’t know what’s happening. I walked back and as I’m walking back, I had trouble walking. I sat down with my family and everyone. I said to Lauren, “I feel weird now.” I don’t know how I was actually speaking things.

You were partially coherent. Are you saying that you feel out of it a little bit and you felt weird?

I feel out of it. It was a hot day. I played volleyball earlier. I don’t remember everything, but I had trouble speaking. I felt like I was going to lose consciousness. I got sick in front of people. I remember they called an ambulance and then it was all fuzzy. I don’t remember anything after that.

I remember Sean told me that for a couple of weeks, you had a big bulge in your neck? It was sore. You thought it was lymph nodes. You thought you were getting sick with a virus and all these other things came to mind. All these guesses that most of us at that age, because you were about the age that Sean was. Sean, were you 39?

39, yes.

Matt, how old were you?

I was 40.

Very close. Very similar. Did you have any of those symptoms?

In the routine of Jiu-jitsu, you’re choked out a lot. You’re bruised, you’re banged up and we don’t think anything of it. We’re athletes. We wind with our game.

I can remember being sore on the side of my neck for a little while. Who knows, it could have been that or it could have been one of many times that I was sore doing stuff like that.

At that age, you discount these little aches and pains if you’re actively involved in Jiu-jitsu. You were also, I understand, an athlete too. You run marathons. You were very active.

AIH 16 | Fighting Through Stroke
Fighting Through Stroke: I don’t remember everything, but I had trouble speaking. I felt like I was going to lose consciousness. I got sick in front of people.

 

I don’t want to make it seem like I was a superhero. I did run a marathon.

That’s one more marathon than I’ve run, so you’re a superhero to me. I’ve participated in a relay for a half marathon. That’s not quite close enough. You were very active, it’s safe to say. Discounting aches and pains and soreness was pretty normal.

The last thing I was thinking of is having a stroke.

At that age, absolutely.

I got a call from his wife, Lauren, and it was out of the blue. I thought she was a neighbor of mine looking for advice or something. It turns out she saw my article on ESPN with Dan Henderson and that’s how she found me. We started talking with the stroke groups. Matt has come so far and inspired me because his speech was so bad in the very beginning. He couldn’t even hold a conversation for a couple of minutes.

Before we get into that, Matt, you were in the hospital and it’s all fuzzy. The ambulance takes you to the hospital. You wake up and you are told you have a stroke. You’re thrown in this whole new world. Your wife is thrown in this whole new world. You guys are out there floating, probably not knowing what to do next. What were they telling you in the hospital?

Once again, it’s all a little fuzzy to me. One thing I remember was that I had a doctor. He was I could say not very supportive towards me. I remember telling the doctor what I did and when can I get back to work. He told me flat out, “You have to get used to the idea that you’re probably not going to work again.”

Just flat out like that. He told you to get used to the idea that you’re not working again. No hope, nothing. Did that make you mad?

A little bit but I felt it was just like, “He’s an idiot.”

Good for you. I’m not trying to discount the doctors who saved your life because they absolutely saved your life. At that point, your wife and your family must have been in shock that you were given this black and white explanation. You had a stroke and now you’re not going to work, and this is your new reality. That’s it. No hope, nothing.

It was strange because I thought to myself when I was in the hospital like, “A month or two and I’ll be back to work.” I’m very far from having the skills I needed to get back to work. I’ve got a long way to go with it. Two months later, I was like, “I’ll be back to work by the end of the year.” I had a stroke in July and then I thought I’d be back at work by the end of the year.

The big thing with acceptance and surrendering is not necessarily surrendering to stroke but allowing life to continue the way you want to. Click To Tweet

What were you doing at the time working?

I’m a stock analyst. I was a stock analyst beforehand. I not only needed to be able to recover a lot of what I did, but you need to have the skills. You have to be able to talk to people and you have to be able to write. These are things that I can’t even imagine at the time, especially if being my wife or my friends or whatever, I bet it’s very hard to picture myself getting back to doing things like that days and weeks after my stroke.

At the time, are you saying you couldn’t write, you couldn’t talk, and you couldn’t reach on? Sean was alluding to the fact that once your wife reached out and found him through support groups because she needed some guidance, Sean said that he could barely understand you.

What’s interesting too is the loved ones, the wives, the husbands, the spouses are so panicked. They’re freaked out. They’re scared. They feel helpless because they can’t do much for their loved one. He hadn’t recovered enough even to come home. Once he came home, we started talking. We come into words together. His speech wasn’t fluent. He was not like this now. He had trouble remembering his name, his kids’ names, his wife and that’s common with us. It’s such a common thing because you go from being sophisticated, smart, and I consider Superman to being immortal within seconds.

I think about it as people that are bilingual or trilingual or whatever. You have to translate things into a language. I think about it as if I speak Spanish. I have to translate Spanish in my head and then say this word in Spanish. I couldn’t do that at all. It was very strange. I knew I wanted to say, “Hi, Mason,” to my son but I couldn’t get those words out. I knew exactly what I wanted to say, just saying those things were impossible to me. It’s very strange and scary.

Sean says aphasia is what it’s referred to. I know from Sean’s own story telling me that that’s something very common that many stroke victims go through. What was your rehab like, at least the rehab that got you home?

It was very intense. It was speech therapy, physical therapy, and occupational therapy. It was about an hour each a day times two. One set of sessions in the morning and another one set of sessions in the afternoon every day, seven days a week.

That’s hard work.

It was crazy. I got up and did these therapies. I went back for a lunch for an hour or two and I usually took a nap or something. Then I go out again and do the therapies and I came back and I went to sleep for a couple of hours. That’s what I did. I was in the hospital for almost five weeks and then I got released. I had to continue from home. I did the same thing. Typically, I did those sessions once a day or almost once a day. You’ve got those sessions. There were three times a week. I supplemented them all with private lessons or therapies. It was very intense sessions. In reality, the thing that kept me going about it was like, “This is what I have to do. This is my job now. I have to do this and to get better.”

What’s interesting, Matt, as you talked about that and what goes on with the stroke is the brain is brain tired. You’re doing the therapy an hour but for the normal person, it seems nothing. For us, the one hour is like multiple hours. When you do it back to back, you were training the brain to pick up the weak side of the body. We’re learning how to write, talk and speak and even know your left from your right. It’s exhausting and an hour would cause us who suffered a stroke to maybe take a nap for half hour, just an hour and a half or a couple of hours because we are gone. Sleep is such an effective tool to heal with the brain injury and the stroke. The brain’s got to be active but it needs to shut down so it can do all its healing in the Beta forms of sleep or REM.

You were doing the recovery in the hospital and doing physical therapy at home too. You’re doing all the things and continuing them. I like how you put it, that’s your work now. That your new job at least for now at the time. Did you ever feel like you were given enough options to make choices in your healing?

AIH 16 | Fighting Through Stroke
Fighting Through Stroke: The thing that kept me going with the therapies was like, “This is what I have to do. This is my job now. I have to do this to get better.”

 

I looked at it as, “Tell me what to do and I’ll do it.” Thankfully none of the therapists said I can’t do this or I can’t get better or anything like that. That helped me.

You’re lucky because some of them, with Sean’s experience, said that, “This is it for you.”

In the beginning, because no one knows. Matt beat the odds. I beat the odds and we continue to because we fight together to want to heal. A big piece of Matt’s healing is because his wife got behind him and supported everything he was doing. She had to realize, “My husband can’t work. He can’t provide right now. We have to find other ways and other means to survive while I get my husband healed.” He has a great wife. We’ve met her and the family and they’re wonderful. What was so wonderful with them is that I called to check in the progress with Matt and Lauren because it takes a team to help heal. I saw the progress and every other day was getting better for him more than every other week.

That must have been strange to see that happen and think about your own recovery. It’s funny how you said you noticed the changes but even with me, it felt like it wasn’t happening at all. What people say is, “You’re doing very well,” but even to myself, I didn’t notice the improvement until maybe four or five months that I noticed things are getting better.

There was a time when I saw you and you couldn’t lift your weak hand. I forgot which hand it was. The next time we did a call together and we saw each other on FaceTime or Zoom, both hands are now working. He picked up so quickly and so fast because he was determined to want to fight and he kept showing up. I’m proud of him and his family because I remember too, Matt, you had an issue with one of your kids because they didn’t know their dad. They were scared and the kids get scared as well, but they gravitated to him and they got through it because it’s scary for everybody. Here goes a father who takes them running and takes them bike riding and then all of a sudden, dad’s paralyzed.

I imagine that’s scary. I know Sean’s experience with his children. His girls were very young at the time. How old were your kids when this happened?

They were seven and four or three.

Looking back at all the work you’ve done and the effort you put into helping yourself heal. I asked you, “Do you feel you were given enough hope or options for healing?” In retrospect, what are some of the things you wish you had been told or wish you could have explored or at least has been enlightened to do some searching and researching yourself on how to heal?

One thing that helped me was and I was very lucky, I went to this place called Burke Rehabilitation Center. They had some interesting robotics things. I talked to Sean about this years ago. I found out that the robotics were very helpful. You put yourself in this machine that you get to manipulate these items on a video screen and it helps you move around to do those things. That was tremendous. Also, I got into an occupational therapy study that was much longer than just a few hours a day. It was two or three hours a day. The study didn’t go anywhere but for me, it was a tremendous help having more time with a therapist every day. Things like that. I got very lucky and being able to pursue to get those things was very helpful. My wife helped me to figure out the things that are offered by people at Burke and getting those things were very helpful for me.

I’m so glad these things helped you and your family got on the road to recovery, but you say you’re lucky. I feel like many people who go through traumatic experiences and need to rehabilitate shouldn’t have to be lucky. There were a lot of people who don’t have access to these things or maybe the traditional ways of rehabbing aren’t for them. You must have some thoughts on people who are in similar situations that you were in but don’t get the same help. That’s got to move you.

I think about that very often. I think about people that are either in parts of the country that don’t have access to these things. This Burke was just down the street from me. It’s fifteen minutes away. I can’t imagine if I lived hours away or have to get on a plane. That robotics thing was experimental and there are only one or two places in the entire country that do this thing. The people who were from Dallas or from somewhere else in the country would have to fly out here for a few months at a time to do this. I can’t imagine doing those things. I highly doubt I would have pursued them if it required me to get in a car or get in an airplane to do those things.

The motivation is getting back to doing most of what you enjoy doing. Click To Tweet

I called them too back in the day and I didn’t know much about it. I started to look into this saying, “If this works for Matt, then maybe I can do it.” Living in LA and getting on a flight and going out there, the costs associated with it, the time and the energy for me to get on a plane at that time, travel and land out there and spend two to three months, it was impossible but I’m happy he got it. I’m happy he met Brad Berman in there. They became friends because as we know with Brad’s wife, she raised the money in order to help facilitate the place.

Brad Berman was a previous guest on one of the podcasts who had also suffered a stroke as well. He and his wife raised a lot of money to help bring robotics to help heal stroke victims in their area.

He’s fortunate. He’s not lucky, he’s persistent. Matt showed up every day and he got to work. That’s what makes him extraordinary because he wanted to heal. There are parts of the world that are unfortunate and people don’t have access to that technology or the therapies in order to rebuild the brain. It’s not going to heal all by itself like a broken bone.

A lot of these things costs money too. I was very lucky that people in my community and people I know donated towards my recovery. That help was tremendous. I can’t imagine not having that. As others are saying, “The fun was to be able to do these things.” Some of them were included and paid for through my insurance companies but frankly, it’s very limited. I left the hospital and I had therapies a couple of times a week, but I supplemented it with private therapies essentially. I can’t imagine going through recovery just using your own insurance or you may not have insurance to do things like these.

What was it like in the rehab? Were you ever depressed? Were you ever at a point where you’re like, “I’m done. I’m giving up. I’m over all this?” Did you ever find yourself going to a dark place?

I don’t think I had much depression with this. Part of it that somewhat helped me is being naive towards recovery. I thought to myself, “It’s a month or two away. I’m going to go back to work.” A month or two came. I thought, “I’m getting better. Maybe another couple of months.” I didn’t have that depression so to speak. It’s surprising but I didn’t have any depression.

I’m sure and Sean, you can speak to this too, that it also depends maybe on the level of impact your body takes after a stroke. I’ve met you, your wife and your kids. Somebody who meets you for the first time would never know that you had a stroke. Do you have any lingering effects from that?

I’m blind in one eye. The right side of my body which is the side that was affected, I’d say it’s probably 80% back. It’s hard for me to type so I type with one hand mostly. I can’t throw a baseball or write because I was a righty. It’s hard for me to do certain things but I’ve adapted. Thankfully, you can do things one handed.

I always joke with Sean when we first got together. I realized that everything in the house had pumps on it instead of caps. There are certain adjustments and things that you have to make when you go back home and jump back into everyday life that you take for granted. These things that all had to be changed. What modifications did you guys have to do at your house?

I remember when I came back from the hospital, certain things had changed in my house. They took the carpeting out of the foyer like a rug down there. I have a seat in the shower and all that stuff but fast forwarding to now, not many modifications are needed anymore. My right side is definitely still affected but I can get by with it. I have the use of the hand, it’s just not as useful as it was before I had the stroke.

He’s independent, which he regained. It is key to the success and the recovery of a stroke. He found that early on and the momentum carried him forward to not be depressed and to not be angry or upset. Matt keeps going and keeps moving. That’s what’s wonderful about his progress as we watched it. It’s quite interesting to see how he’s doing. He may not think he’s back but if you look at him, he looks great. You can’t even tell.

AIH 16 | Fighting Through Stroke
Fighting Through Stroke: Robotics were very helpful. Basically, you put yourself in this machine and manipulate items on a video screen. It helps you move around to do those things.

 

Sean, people say that to you, “You look great,” and it’s strange. It doesn’t sit well with you sometimes because you don’t feel great all the time, but you do. You’ve come a long way. I’m sure Matt had felt the same way when people would tell you, “You look great.” Did you have any thoughts of, “Thanks but I’m still working?”

Even now, I’m still working. It’s a never-ending process to continue to get better.

Are you driving yet, Matt?

Yes, I’ve been driving. It was almost maybe seven months since I started driving.

You’re blind in the right eye or the left eye?

My left eye.

You’re blind in the left eye. The one hand is still affected. It’s not yet back and this gentleman is proving to everybody he can do it. He adapted well enough to get back to work, to be a dad, and to still go outside. I think you ran a marathon. Are you back to running now?

Half marathon.

He’s running half marathons and he’s still not at where he wants. He’s still not back at his peak. What’s so clear is he has found his new self. He’s a new person in him and he’s accepted it. That’s a big thing with acceptance and surrendering. Not surrendering to the stroke necessarily but allowing life to continue on the way he wants to. To be in a new reality and fulfill himself.

My new normal.

Maybe your peak is your half marathon right now. Maybe it’s getting through three-fourths of a marathon, but you’re doing a marathon.

You will get better, but you got to put the work into it. Click To Tweet

I have no desire to run a marathon again.

Me either.

I still do. Matt, here’s the question about getting back on the mat. Do you want to get back on the mat or are you done with the Jiu-jitsu?

I’m done with Jiu-jitsu. I do miss it a lot. I’ve seen some things on Facebook or some friends I have out there that are doing it and I definitely miss it, but in reality, it’s too dangerous. I’m never going to do that again. I talked to my doctor and I think it’s just that my veins and my neck are probably too rigid and that’s why they broke down. I’m a Jiu-jitsu participant no longer.

If your kids decided to want to do it, are you for it or are you against it?

I think my wife would kill me if I decide to pursue Jiu-jitsu. My daughter likes doing it. She went with me once a week, but she doesn’t miss it at all. We’re not doing that anymore.

She’d rather have her dad.

I get it. It’s scary. Do you still like to watch the sport? Do you still follow the sport?

I follow MMA still. I still like the sport. It’s just not for me anymore.

He’s moved on. What is your pass time then? If you could do anything again, what would you choose to do? Is it bike riding? Is it a spartan race?

I definitely jog a lot. I tried playing golf once. I like to get back to playing basketball or softball or having a catch with my son or whatever. That would be great. I’d say those are probably the things I would like to do.

AIH 16 | Fighting Through Stroke
Fighting Through Stroke: It’s a never-ending process to continue to get better.

 

You’re still working towards them.

Just because I can’t shoot baskets well, it doesn’t mean that I don’t try to do that with my son or my daughter. I thought we’d just throw. I started throwing lefty a little bit. You figure out a way to get things done.

After all of these experiences, what is your why? What is your takeaway? What drives you or motivates you day-to-day?

I’d say that I want to get back to doing things like this. That’s the motivation. You want to get back to doing most of what you enjoy doing and fortunately, I’ve been able to get back most of what I like doing in the past. There are still things that are difficult for me, but there are always things out there that we can look to help us. Hopefully, in the years to come, there will be breakthroughs on things that will help me and help Sean to continue to get better.

It says he never ends, but life is the journey. What Matt and I have learned, it’s not a sprint, the marathon. That is what’s so ironic with Matt’s life, myself, Brad Berman and everyone out there who’s suffered something. You will get better, but you got to put the work into it. You’ve got to give yourself the time to get better and heal because the brain is not going to heal itself.

One thing that you can do is you have to work into it. I could have come home and felt sorry about myself and decided that I can’t do and just sat around and do nothing, but you got to work hard and you can get better if you pursue it. It doesn’t mean you’ll do everything, but you’d be better tomorrow than you are now.

Because our kids drove me and they drive Matt, after meeting his family, our why is we don’t want to be in a wheelchair. We don’t want to be immobile. We don’t want to be on the couch or left in the bed. We wanted to watch them grow. We wanted to help them to participate in this life. I don’t think Matt is angry or upset. I think he is, like myself, we find the new extraordinary. I will come and coach you on because I heard a lot of can’t in this conversation. “I can’t do this,” and you’re not like that. It’s all about I can, I shall, I will. You have seen it. You believed it and you achieved it and that’s amazing. You inspire me and inspire so many people. It’s hard for us to take on because we live in this body of ours that is healing. It’s constant healing. Elsa says to me all the time, and Taylor, “Everyone’s healing and no one is perfect.” There’s no one on the planet who’s got everything going well for him. Do you go back to the hospital much often or do you go back and revisit with people?

No, there are definitely people that I’d speak to like how you spoke to me after my stroke. There are definitely people that have had a stroke and after I had a stroke that I speak to. I don’t go back to the hospital much anymore. For me, it’s more about helping people that I met and I’m keeping up with people to encourage them to get better.

Matt, thank you so much for sharing your journey. We’d love to check back in with you at some point in the future and see where you are and see some of the other healing methods you’ve used along the way to get yourself to your goals.

Thank you for having me. It’s great to talk about this.

Absolutely, Matt. This is so great.

Thank you very much.

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About Matthew Jacob

AIH 16 | Fighting Through Stroke

I had a stroke on July 5, 2015. The stroke left me blind in my left eye, impaired 25% of vision in my right eye, restricted movement on the right side of my body, and created difficulty even with the most basic parts of speech. For example, I couldn’t do things like name common household items such as a cup or a spoon, come up with the names of my wife and kids, and I constantly used to switch words like he and she. I was told by my doctors that would I never be able to work again. It was scary. But I battled back. I knew I would get better. I had daily speech, physical and occupational therapy. It was grueling, and at times frustrating, but I stuck with it, never missing a session. Thankfully, my vision returned in my right eye, even though I remain blind in my left. My speech recovered, and the right side of my body is probably about 80% back to pre-stroke levels. Most importantly, I returned to work 10 months after the stroke. I proved them wrong!

 

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