Russell Strom shares his perspective on life after stroke and the interesting ways he was able to heal from the injury. He hacked his brain by singing and yawning as part of his personal recovery. Most importantly, he made a decision and was courageous enough to get back to life and reintegrate himself into the public. Russell also volunteers some of his time visiting other stroke warriors to inspire them to recover.

 

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The Courage To Get Back To Life After Stroke with Russell Strom

We are the messengers from the universe, bringing you Adventures in Health.

Who do we have on?

A person who came into my life at the right time and thank God he did because there are people who come into your life that lasts about a moment, a second, a day and they last a lifetime. Russell Strom to me is a friend that I will have for this one lifetime and the ones beyond. He inspired me so much that when I was in the hospital for a good four to five months, I lost it as anybody would. I was paralyzed. I was trapped. I was in a bad place. In comes this bright, shiny kid at the age of 34 who shared his stories with me and sat with me in the hospital room for hours and we talked, and we just got connected. He cried and I cried. He always cries. He’s always in tears. Russell had a stroke at 29. I don’t want to go too far into the detail with him, but it’s been many years since that.

Russell’s always been in my corner and he’s actually inspired me to actually become the stroke hacker because of who he is and what he persevered. If you look at him now, he looks totally healthy. He was paralyzed on his right side, which was his strong side, his dominant side. He worked through it. He worked through the darkness and found the light and now he shares that light with so many people who have been through traumatic events. He and his wife had become friends of mine and his daughters are so amazing. I’m in loss of words because he moved me into action. I think everybody needs a Russell Strom in their life for sure.

Our guest is Russell Strom. He’s a really amazing human being because he was there for Sean in the very early days of his recovery after the stroke. Sean says that Russell helped him get through the early days and was instrumental to helping him work through the pain of coming back to after the stroke.

If the word love means anything, it equals Russell Strom. The amount of honesty, love and compassion somebody has in my life, there’s no one else I can think about but Russell. I was in the hospital probably from January 5th, my birthday. I turned 40 in the hospital all the way through about May or June of that year. I’d probably say over 100 days of inpatient rehab. I got so depressed and so angry because my life was turned upside down from the stroke, the surgeries and everything else. Being inpatient rehab, I kept saying to everybody, “I need to be able to talk to somebody who’s my age.” Everybody there with a brain injury or stroke was older and I couldn’t identify, I couldn’t relate.

One day this angel comes walking into my room and says, “I’m Russell Strom. I had a stroke five years ago.” He tells me a story. He was 29 at the time and we formed a bond. We sat there together, we cried together, and I was going through some angry horrific dark times. Even though I was rebooting myself, I couldn’t even stand then. I was in a wheelchair. I couldn’t go to the bathroom myself. They were getting me acclimated back to doing what Russell and I called ADL. It’s Activities of Daily Living stuff. He came and he sat with me. He held my hand and what he gave me was this hope and seeing him fully recovered. The guy is running, he’s jogging, and he’s got full use of both hands. Russell, let’s talk about you and talk a little about how you had a stroke and what exactly happened to you with your girlfriend at the time, who’s now your wife.

We were actually going to drive up to her parent’s house that night, she came home early from work that day. I worked at home at that time. I was home all the time, but I was washing some dishes before we left, and I started getting dizzy and lightheaded. I went and sat down at my desk and I couldn’t talk all of a sudden. I couldn’t use anything on the right side of my body. I lifted my hand up to get her attention and dropped it like I can’t do anything.

What was going through your head in that moment?

I was confused. I had an idea that those were the symptoms of a stroke, but I was like, “That can’t be it. That happens for 80-year-olds, overweight, out of shape and stuff like that.”

You were in great shape at the time. The only thing I will say is that you played football starting at a young age. You played in high school and then you went to go play in college as well for an Ivy League school. You went to Columbia on the East Coast and you’re from Jersey. You had concussions, you were aggressive, your body was in great shape and you’re like at 29 going, “What is happening to me?” You didn’t even want to call the ambulance because you’re too cheap, tell that story. He didn’t even call the ambulance. Tell us about that incident.

She was a lifeguard before, she knows what was going on. She knew the symptoms and she was like, “I’m calling the ambulance.” I couldn’t talk but I grunted and shook my head like, “No you’re not.” She went to go find my neighbors. We had a couple young guys who are strong. She wanted to get them to take me to the car so we could go to the hospital and they weren’t home. The only person she found was our little 90-pound, girl neighbor and she helped wheel me. They both helped wheel me down the stairs and around the corner to the car. It was a mess, I tried to stand up and walk, I fell down on the floor and brought her down with me.

You were having a hemorrhagic or ischemic stroke?

Ischemic.

What’s the difference between the two so we can get clarification for everybody?

Ischemic is a blockage of a capillary or an artery in your brain and hemorrhagic is a broken blood vessel. You’re leaking blood into your brain. We finally got me in the car and we start driving to the hospital. I started taking my clothes off and she was like, “What are you doing?” I’m grunting to her, “I don’t want them to cut my clothes.”

AIH 12 | Life After Stroke

Life After Stroke: Ischemic stroke is a blockage of a capillary or an artery in your brain, and hemorrhagic is broken blood vessel.

 

He was still conscious of money. What’s happening is, he is having a stroke, but the stroke hasn’t hit him completely. It is partially because mine did the same thing but he’s got a weak arm. His face is starting to droop and it’s all about timing. He needs to get what’s called the clot buster, which he didn’t get in time either.

Mine was a little weird because I actually had two, they’re called TIA a Transient Ischemic Stroke. When we got to the hospital, they finally got me out. I finally got my shorts off. I was all happy they weren’t going to cut them and then they got me out and wheeled me in my underwear. They said, “Can you move your right arm?” I was able to talk a tiny bit and I said, “No,” but then I raised my right arm. All my right side came back.

It’s crazy because you’re 29 at the time. Walk me through it. You get taken to Sharp Hospital and most hospitals have what’s called a stroke team, which they are ready to implement and work immediately. They know that they have a window of a few hours to get you this clot buster and get it going. You were too late for that.

It was a little weird. I actually went to Scripps in La Jolla. They knew I was having a TIA because it came back. I had another one so I couldn’t move again. I couldn’t talk and they were doing all the scans they could, but they needed to ship me eventually to UCSD.

They had a stroke center there and they can identify where the clot was coming from or what was going on, which is so common.

They could see it with the scan they did there but they needed some better imaging. I had two TIAs, while I was at Scripps. They actually were going to let me go. They said, “If you’re okay for three days you’re good to go.” I couldn’t see, it looked like it had resolved itself.

It had flushed the blockage. It’s like a dam and the water broke through, so it looks like a dam and the dam would break. It’s the difference with his, and no offense Russell his was minor compared to mine because it was two different strokes.

Was yours hemorrhagic?

Ischemic too, I didn’t have a bleed in the brain. I had a clot form in my carotid artery in my neck, which went to my brain. Hemorrhagic is when there’s a brain bleed. They didn’t have to operate on you, Russell. Walk me through, you stayed in Sharp, you’re at inpatient rehab, what was that like? Being there a young age, you’re 29, which is great because you still can recover faster than even I was. How was that time?

The night of the third day when they were going to let me go the next morning, I actually had a stroke. Whatever was there, the little nest of blood vessels actually burst. It turned into a hemorrhagic stroke, but it didn’t.

He was lucky to be in the hospital, you should have died.

Two of the transient ischemic strokes and then a hemorrhagic stroke.

If people can get through that initial sadness, they're not going to be exactly the same. Click To Tweet

Whatever the little blood vessel that was messed up, they saw what it was. They said, “It looks like your TIA went away, we’re going to keep you on blood thinners and you’ll be okay.” The night before I was supposed to leave, I had an actual stroke and then it didn’t come back anymore.

Tell me about Megan. At the time you’re dating, what is she feeling? She’s a strong woman, she’s a friend of mine. She’s your companion. She’s your soulmate. The mother of your two kids. What was she going through? We’re going to have her on the show as well but that’s pretty remarkable that your girlfriend’s sticks by you going, “I didn’t sign up for all this,” and no one ever does.

It was amazing.

I’m in tears because he and I hang out and we always cry. Sometimes with the stroke, the way it affects our brain, we might cry a lot, we might laugh a lot and we might talk a lot. My thing is I talk a lot. This is what I want to talk about with the show. When I first decided to start doing the show, Russell was on my show with 5 Minutes with Seany a couple of times. I got inspired because of what Russell has done for me and listening to his story. He came back from that and beat it. You were in Sharp Hospital for how long, inpatient rehab?

Between the inpatient and outpatient, I was probably there for four or five months.

Which is a long time, if you think about it. It’s 50 to 60 days or longer.

You had the two transient ischemic strokes and they were about to let you go and then you had the hemorrhagic and that one was more severe.

That one was an actual stroke and it was no longer just a blockage that the blood could get through and that fixed it. It’s the little blood vessels that burst. It wasn’t like Sean’s. His was very major, mine was a little smaller.

It’s still horrific, every stroke stinks but what’s amazing with you, Russell, is that you came in. I’ll never forget this. You stayed with me not only for those times I was in the hospital, but you continued to come to my house. I’ll never forget, I was afraid to walk outside and walk down the curb. I said, “I can’t walk to the curb.” He looked at me and he goes, “You’re walking out the curb.” I said, “I don’t want to.” “You’re going to walk,” and I’ll never forget this because I was so depressed, and I was probably suicidal at the time. I know I was because I didn’t want to live in this body. I was like, Russell, I felt to me I was young. I was in training and what was so inspiring with him is that he got it all back. He’s getting it back. He may not tell you he’s fully back but if you look at him, you can’t tell the difference. We’re hanging out with him with Dan Henderson’s gym and Russell was carrying around weights and helping us out. He looked like he was normal, where my left arm is still very weak and it’s still making the connection to its neural pathways. Your arm came back with about eighteen months or less?

Yes, about that. I noticed the difference. It’s a little slow, finesse is not there, and a little jerky. I play basketball now in the mornings with a good group of guys. I’m not very good but they deal with it.

Tell me this story about your OT with the basketball because I’ll never forget when your arm start coming back.

I had an amazing group of therapists, doctors and nurses. I got transferred to UCSD. They did a great job, it was mostly nurses and doctors and some inpatient physical therapy. I didn’t start occupational therapy because I had no movement at all in my arm. I went to Sharp inpatient and I had a great group there that was helping me. By the end of inpatient, I had gotten some movement in my shoulder and a tiny bit in my triceps. They would have me benching a PVC pipe square. Probably weighed half a pound and it was like lifting 300 pounds. It’s freaky because I was in good shape. I was strong. I played football.

AIH 12 | Life After Stroke

Life After Stroke: They want to make sure your swallow reflex is working well so you don’t choke.

 

What position did you play?

Linebacker.

In college and high school, how many concussions did you have throughout your whole career? You played for twenty years it seems like, or at least a ten.

It wasn’t that long but it’s about ten. I remember being knocked out twice. I remember at least four or five other, what I now know are concussions. I try to shake them off and go back in.

That’s normal to throw some sand on it, put some dirt on and keep going.

Probably somewhere around eight or ten good concussions and then some other smaller dings along the way.

Talk to me about your rehab because it’s so important because I want people to hear the road to recovery. You were in inpatient for about three to four months and then what did you do after that?

Inpatient, I was in for three weeks and then they let me go home. I was supposed to go home a week earlier but I failed the swallow test. They want to make sure your swallow reflex is working well so you don’t choke.

When you do the barium swallow, they want to make sure that the liquids or the food is going into the stomach and not into the lungs. If it goes into the lungs, you’re going to drown basically and die. I had something similar. The reason why we’re going through step by step because there are so many people out there who don’t know what to do and then how to do it. Russell is such a great teacher and his story is brilliant. You went back home and then you had home health.

I went to outpatient. They had a van that would pick me up every day at home.

You didn’t do home health?

No, I didn’t. My insurance wouldn’t cover it and luckily one of the ladies in the program was able to get my insurance to cover the outpatient healthcare and inpatient actually through a benefit I had that was basically for nursing home care.

The more stimulation that's coming through, the higher energy demand there is. Click To Tweet

I’m curious to hear what was going on with, when you started going to rehab post stroke, emotionally. What was it like to start going through rehab? Was it tough for you? Were you super motivated every day or was it these ups and downs?

It’s definitely ups and downs, it was really tough. I knew that as soon as I could get some movement, I could work on it. It was defeating to see. I was getting movement in my leg. I was starting to walk. It was weak but I knew if I was working it, it would get stronger. I wasn’t worried about that as much. It was my hand and my arm that were driving me crazy. I try with all my might and I couldn’t get it to move.

What did you do? You taught me something. You went home and studied the anatomy of your whole arm and you visualized using those muscles and the tendons again, which I still do. Things that you told me, I forget things but whatever you said as the years pass, I remember all of it.

First I noticed when I yawn, I could get my arm to move. I could control it on the way down. That’s how I started working on it. I couldn’t get it to lift on its own but if I yawn I could do, they call it negative repetitions where you have a weight, you pick it up and then you drop it slowly. It was like that. From lifting weights and exercising, I had an advantage because whatever movement I could get, I could figure out.

Let me explain about the yawn. Involuntary movement happens all the time because it’s spasticity and involuntary when you yawn. I still do it, too. If a car door will slam or something happens to me loud, my left arm will actually come up and hit me right in the face.

It’s a protection method for your body. It’s an instinct.

Russell, here is an interesting question. Did you start choosing to yawn just because you knew you had some control on the way down?

Yeah, I mean it’s pretty easy because you’re exhausted all the time. Your mind is healing so your body’s using every resource to heal your brain. You’re also working out to try to get things back so you’re constantly exhausted.

Let’s talk about that because the tiredness, people are often asking me, “I can’t get through a couple of hours in the day.” I know that you’re trying to get back to work and that didn’t do well for you at all. You flopped up with that one which is common. You went back to work and you fell asleep at the desk.

I hadn’t abandoned. I was working at home before and my previous boss allowed me to come back in. We needed money so I had to start working but it was way too soon. She helped me, she gave me work and I wasn’t the same worker that I used to be. I used to much quicker. I had to type with one hand, I had to write notes with my left hand because I had lost my right hand.

You’re dominant on which side?

My right side.

AIH 12 | Life After Stroke

Life After Stroke: Going out in the world is part of your recovery. Don’t just go home and shut the door.

 

Your right side was gone. I remember that because we were a perfect body. My left side was gone, his right side was gone. When I first met Russell, he came in and he was showing me everything. I got to tell you, if it wasn’t for him and I’ll say this, I probably wouldn’t be here right now. I would have tried to have killed myself and that’s the truth because this guy said, “A ball of love, a ball of energy.” He came in and not only did he come and he stood by me, we’d become friends but you meet these people in your life that are there for a short time.

Russell, his family, Megan and his kids will be next to my family forever. He’s a permanent fixture. You can’t even explain because we share a stroke but we share so much in common. What happened after I left San Diego, I want to get more involved as I started to come back awake because mine was a lot more severe at certain times. My exhaustion, I was irritable, I was pissed off, and I was angry. When those moments happen, I thought of him and he was able to calm me down and get me to say, “It’s all going to work out.” Russell’s not a doctor, he’s a stroke survivor or not only a survivor he’s a thriver.

I could hear and I wanted to listen to people. I played sports my whole life and at times, you don’t want to hear the coach, you want to hear the other players because if you watch someone else do it, then you can do it. That’s what he was doing for me. He told me his stories and we cried together. We laughed together and part of the reason why I’m still here and talking is because of Russell Strom. I’ll never forget the day that we went down to San Diego. He called me and said, Strikeout Stroke, which is an organization which supports the FAST message which we’ve had already. We went out there to speak to the audience in San Diego. Russell, I won’t say scared but a little bit shy from the camera said, “We need someone to speak to the crowd and the press.” I said, “I’ll do it.” I had no idea what I was doing.

Russell, I’d like to hear from your perspective. What was your first reaction to meeting Sean? I know you visit the stroke center and help people, but did you know before you showed up that day that you were meeting Sean or was it a surprise?

I had been doing it for a couple years. I go back to and whenever somebody young had a stroke or a brain injury and was down, they would have me come in and talk to them about my experience. I had people come in when I was in inpatient and it really helped me. They told me their experience and what helped them. I remember having any guy come in and tell me that he couldn’t speak and the nurse had told him that sometimes you can still sing clearly, even though maybe you can speak clearly because it’s a bit different part of your brain. He started singing when he would ask for something. He would sing and it would come out perfectly clear. Little tidbits like that, whatever information I could get, I wanted. Anything stupid that helps somebody, I wanted to know about it.

You became a geek with the neuro world. I love it.

I just had an interesting image of Russell singing and yawning, which is amazing because these are the little details that are so important that I’ve never heard of. I’ve heard of strokes. I know people in my family who have had strokes but I’ve never heard, “You can sing to use a different part of your brain. You can yawn to trigger something.”

They talk about depending on where the stroke happens you can use the other side of the brain to get active. You can draw, you can do art, you can sing. I want to talk about a funny moment again with Russell. You took Megan out for dinner and to the opera. What happened there?

It was her birthday and I bought opera tickets then I was going to surprise her. We finally get to the opera and they did a little speech. They explained about the opera before it actually started and we had never been to the opera before. We got there a little late for that and we were trying to get into these two seats in the middle of the row. I was carrying a cane and my arm didn’t work very well. We were trying to be quiet and slide past people to get into those seats. Everybody in the row in front of me, I was hitting in the head with my hands dangling there. We made a big commotion in the middle of this thing. It was embarrassing but I decided early on that I needed to get out and back to life. I was either going not be embarrassed and stay at home or I was going to be embarrassed and get back to life.

That’s a huge choice but I do remember it, you hit someone in the head and took off their toupee and you didn’t know it.

There was an older guy. He was pretty upset.

Let me explain the situation, what happens is when your arm is weak it hangs there like mine does. I knock over water bottles, I knock over the laptop, I knock a microphone. Imagine this arm flailing. He’s knocking overheads as he’s trying to get to a seat and one guy had a toupee on. I don’t know if it was you but I’ve heard this before, where he looks down and someone said that your hand will go into extension and flexion. Flexion means you’re making a fist. You don’t realize this but your hand will go and do a flexion and you’re actually going to grab something. He could have literally hit someone in the head that he’s sitting down in a seat, he looks down at his arm and he’s holding someone’s toupee in his right arm, which to me is part of the world. The courage that you had not only to beat the tiredness but to take your woman to an opera to get out in the public is so well-needed. Most people are such in fight or flight and because our nervous system is so badly damaged and hurt that we want to either stay at home in bed or we want to go out and talking to the world. I was the guy who wanted to talk and go and go. I didn’t give it to two Ss about what was going to happen. I want to let the world know that I’m coming back.

Do something different. Do what you've always wanted to do. Go out and meet people. Click To Tweet

That’s one of the reasons you did well in your recovery. People will go home and shut the door, don’t want to go out in the world, they don’t recover because that’s part of your recovery.

I talked to people who are veterans who protect our country, the military. A lot of the PTSD, a lot of the whole depression is not based on the physicality of what we go through but the roller coaster of what we make up in our mind of how we are perceived. I’ve always said, you’ve got to make a choice to be out there and no one is normal. Nobody is perfect. That’s the big thing that we get with the show is if Russell can take his wife, not at the time, but to a play and knock over people’s heads and pick-up a toupee and yeah, it’s an accident.

What Russell has taught me is compassion and love. I was not that guy before. I looked at the stroke, I looked at a brain injury, I looked at a veteran not the same way I look at them now and that’s what Russell is spectacular about doing. Let’s talk about the CREP Institute and how you got me into the community again because I was not wanting to go. I came out of inpatient, came out, came to do some home health because my insurance was carrying me and I had some savings, which pretty much got depleted because to walk again costs a whole lot of money as we both know. Talk to me about CREP and what it stands for and what it does?

CREP is a program at Sharp. It’s the Community Re-Entry Program. What it is, is after inpatient and outpatient, it’s a program that helps you get back into the community. It’s more of an intensive outpatient program.

They take you out into the world. You start to use credit cards. You start to use cash, you start to use the internet because I understand that our brains were shut down. What was interesting with my group, I dealt with people who snowboarded, who skated, who have motorcyclist, and who were veterans. Every brain injury is different. I saw people with Tourette’s. There were times where I’d be sitting around during lunch and one guy just stood up and said, “I’ve got to fart.” He started farting. You can’t control your brain and your body. The next person says, “You’ve got to go to the bathroom.” I’m sitting there trying to work on my arm. The laughing to me was such a good thing because I laughed so hard in Community Re-Entry, at the same time I hated Russell because they made me walk everywhere. I had a cane or a Hemi Walker. If you look back now, it’s small. I do 5Ks, I do 10Ks. I can walk the miles. Back then it seemed like it was forever. I don’t know if you remember that.

What I’m picking up from hearing your stories is that getting back into the community and not being alone is so crucial to the recovery because it just forces you to start interacting and having conversations. More than that and a big reason we’re doing this show is you start to hear other people’s stories and through hearing the stories, people stopped feeling so alone and like there’s no one who’s ever gone through this. Russell, if he can go to the opera and slap toupees off people’s heads, why can’t I go out and do something?

That’s the whole point of the show is to tell people, “We’re vulnerable and we’re raw.” Russell was cutting his clothes off. Most people go to the hospital and get undressed, he got wheeled in naked. He’s like, “Don’t cut anything else off,” I get catheterized awake and that sucked. Everyone’s going through their own thing. He was on top of his game, I was on top of mine. Life can change on a dime. Russell has built a great company. He’s become an entrepreneur. You got married to Megan. You had your first child. How long ago was that? She is now how old?

She’s six now.

I saw her as a baby. What’s her name again?

Cora.

The other one is?

Her name is Leona and she’s three now.

This is unbelievable. Russell not only got himself back, he became an entrepreneur and he’s given back to society. What did you do on the road to recovery? Were you taking any supplements? Were you nourishing? The hospital food, let’s call this spade a spade, it sucks. The gluten we’re putting in our body, you eat Turkey sandwich every day for lunch or some oatmeal that just doesn’t even stir that well, but it’s nourishment because we needed something.

When I went home, Megan, my girlfriend at the time, she was able to help me make better food. I’d still eat lunch at the hospital. I tried to do my best with eating healthy but some of it wasn’t so healthy. I did not take a lot of supplements just because they didn’t really know what had caused the stroke. They said it could either be hereditary or from concussions in football. They were leaning towards concussions, but they couldn’t say for sure. I didn’t have a real answer to what happened. Some people have high blood pressure, it’s easy to tell that was the cause or some people have a block, they have clotted arteries from cholesterol. Mine wasn’t as simple. I was scared about what I was putting into my body.

You were cheap too. You don’t want to pay for a supplement. I know you, you’re like, “No way.” You’re doing million-dollar deals buying houses and flipping them. You’re building mixed-use apartments. You’re building retail spaces in San Diego. This kid who went from, “Don’t cut my shorts and shirts,” he’s now building and creating, bought his own house, which is gorgeous in Pacific Beach in San Diego where he’s literally two miles right from the water. He finally got a new car because the car he was driving, I said, “I’m going to die now,” and actually died in a coma. The car was so bad. It was so smelly. You did get in a new car, right?

Yeah, I did.

AIH 12 | Life After Stroke

Life After Stroke: No matter how bad your stroke was or brain injury, whatever happened to you, it’s terrible. Your way of life changes, but there’s always a silver lining.

 

Tell us a story about you doing the stick shift. He wasn’t supposed to be driving and he had a stick shift and he couldn’t even get the car out at a park.

They basically told me I had to report to the DMV that I had a stroke. I did that and then they took away my license. I had to go through this program to get my license back. Most of my therapists thought I’d never drive a stick again just because my hand wasn’t working. One day I had to move my car and Megan couldn’t drive stick. I was going to get a ticket. I had to parallel park all with my left side with my left foot and my left hand to drive the stick. It took probably ten to fifteen minutes to get into a spot, but I did it.

It seems like hours, right?

Yeah, and I was sweating. I didn’t have power steering in that car either. It was a nightmare.

Russell, talk about the first time you got back in a car after all that time because you and I had similar experiences. I know there are so many people out there who say, “I leave the hospital and my car ride home is interesting.” Tell us about your story about coming home.

You’re in the hospital. You may not know if it’s night or day. You don’t get a lot of interaction. You see your therapist, you do your thing every day. You get into a routine and then you go home. You’re driving in a car at 70 miles an hour and it’s just all this information pouring into your brain and you start to get a little freaked out.

It’s stimulation with the brain. Let me explain that because I’ve been through it too. Imagine that you’re stuck in the eye of a twister or a hurricane and you’re seeing everything fly by so fast and you can’t control it. Even though you’re in a car and you had been driving for fifteen years now, and the amount of information that’s coming in your head, I used to keep pushing the lock button because I think every car was going to hit me. It was just crazy.

I’ll just put this into perspective. A healthy brain is generally demanding 20% of the energy coming into your body. As a healthy person, I can only imagine someone going through a stroke and their brain is trying to rebuild itself, at the same time they’re trying to keep up to the pace of life they were at before. It’s this higher energy demand, and the more stimulation that’s coming through, the more demand there is. I can only imagine there is a lot going on.

The best way to explain this is if anyone who’s ever done a workout where it was exhausting, whether you ran some miles, you biked, you swam, you went to practice whether it’s football or dance and you’re just exhausted. You’re not physically exhausted, you’re mentally exhausted. Let’s say you’re studying for a test or you’re going through the bar exam or MCATs or the SATs or something and you’re like, “Why am I so tired?” We felt that 24 hours a day. There was never a point in my recovery, I don’t know about Russell’s, but I’ve talked to the veterans again and the brain injury people where they can’t make sense of it. The tiredness causes you to be depressed, it causes you to be sad. Your speech is not working, your eyesight’s not working and you’re like, “I want the pain to go away,” not the physical pain, the emotional pain, because it all hurts on the nervous system. Would you say that that’s about the right, Russ?

Yeah, for sure.

We all have experiences but you’ve taught me so much about my recovery and you still do. Share with us what you do right now. I know that you went from working for somebody else but talk about your business because it’s fascinating.

Megan has actually worked with us. She helped us design stuff. We have two other partners and we still flip homes and single-family houses. We also do apartment building. We’re doing some ground up development and we’re expanding pretty quickly.

A flip is when someone will look at a house that needs to be either added onto or demoed and then put a new house on. He goes and he finds older houses, gets a deal on that house and then puts the money into reconstructing a new house and then sells it. That’s what’s called a flip. On mixed-use or the apartment buildings, he’ll probably do the same thing. What Russell deals with is the city, the clerk, the amount of paperwork, it’s intensive and exhausting. The point I’m trying to make is that the comeback is there if you just get up and you show up. One thing what Russell always does is he always shows up. If I tell Russell to come down to San Diego, I may have to yank his chain a couple times, but he’s always there and will be like, “I’ll meet you, Seany. I got this.” He’s always got ten projects going on. When I first met you, you were like, “I don’t what I’m going to do with my life.” I actually want to talk to you, but I couldn’t speak at the time and I was afraid to go out my front door. Russell getting me at the front door was probably the beginning of my journey to come back.

We’ve helped each other. You’ve helped me with my recovery, you helped me with business connections. It’s a horrible experience for everyone. No matter how bad your stroke was or brain injury, whatever happened to you, it’s terrible. Your way of life changes, but there’s always a silver lining.

My next question was actually going to be, what unexpected blessings have come from this experience with you? If you want to dive a little bit deeper on that.

There’s a ton. If people can get through that initial sadness, that you’re not going to be exactly the same. You can get close and for me, I didn’t really want to be the same. I didn’t want to do the same job anymore. I wanted to do something different. It was working in that way. I got to do what I had always wanted to do, which is real estate investment. It gave me a chance to sit down and think, “How am I going to do this?” I started going out and meeting people and learning and reading.

How hard was that to read again? I know for me it was still hard for me at times because I don’t see everything on the page. How did you learn to read?

I’ve never been a fast reader, but it was hard to get back. I think it’s part of the same thing like riding in the car. It’s just a lot of information coming in and your brain’s a little slower processing than it used to be.

Everybody out there, I would say something. Whatever you resist is going to persist. If you had the trouble reading or locking or driving, and I do not tell people to drive at least for two to three years and again, checked out by everybody. I’m making this clear, run this by your therapist, get checked out by your ophthalmologist. Get your eyes checked, but do not try to get in the car too soon to drive because it’s not worth it. Just take your time to come back because you taught me that too.

I would say on top of that with the driving, if you did not report that you’ve had a stroke to the DMV and you get in a car accident, you can get in serious trouble because you’re supposed to retest when you’ve had a stroke or a brain injury.

I have one more question for you. What is your message of hope for anyone else out there who’s going through something like this?

I would say it is going to get better. Just keep fighting. You’ve got to keep fighting. You have to forget about your actual day-to-day job that you used to do. Your job now is to get better.

Russell, give us a glimpse of this shelter you want to build in San Diego because it’s so important for the veterans. Let’s talk about what it is because I’m getting behind you and we’re going to raise the money and we’re going to put this together. What is your absolute dream with this community you’re looking to build?

We met a company that builds homes out of shipping containers and we found a way in the building codes in a certain area of San Diego that we could take a property that was zoned for five units and we’ve been able to put 22 units on it. My ultimate goal is we hope this is a new model for affordable housing around the country. We met with the Apple Project, they’re a homeless advocate in San Diego and they built a really nice building, but it costs them $450,000 a unit and we can build for under $150,000. It’s a third of the price. We think it’s a sustainable model where we can have investors invest in the project, like a donation. It’s so much cheaper that that money can basically make a return and it can be reinvested in that project or another project.

You talked about doing the shelter for the homeless and I got to tell you, a lot of the homeless in San Diego are veterans or young kids, females and males who have served our country and have come back with PTSD and they’re depressed and they’re looking for a new outlet. I’ve been talking to Russell about this, is that how we can turn this into a great situation where we can provide them with shelter, home and food and get them coming back. Get them back to deploy, not as military but deployed back into society and working again in becoming advocates for this community of what he wants to build, which is just to me is beyond outstanding.

Sean and I have been talking a lot about it. It’s really exciting.

We’re going to do it, just like I’m getting my arm back slowly.

Russell, if anyone wants to connect with you, if they want to get involved in this project, will you just give a shout-out and let them know how they can find you, how they can connect with you, how they can ask you questions? Whatever you’re open to, go ahead and give that out to people.

It’s probably easiest to email me, RussellStrom54@Gmail.com. Whether you have questions about that or anything about recovery or anything at all, feel free to email me and I’ll probably give you my phone number and then we can talk.

54 stands for your number in college, right?

Yeah.

You played the backer position. How big were you at that time?

In my senior year I was 5’10”, 220.

What do you weigh now?

I’m probably 205 but a lot of muscles have been replaced with fats.

Are you healthier now than you were at 29?

I’m getting back in shape. I was just lazy the past year because I was busy. I’ve been working out five days a week, lifting weights, playing basketball, and doing a bootcamp.

Mentally, you’re much smarter now. When we first met, you were a little slower, which of course I was too. You’re sharp, you’re fast and you’re building something and you’re a father and a husband. You inspire me every day.

You do too. Everything you do for people is amazing. I’m really glad we stayed good friends.

Russell, thank you so much.

Thanks so much.

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About Russell Strom

AIH 12 | Life After StrokeRussell Strom is a real estate investor in San Diego, CA. He received his BA in Economics from Columbia University. He has been consulting and investing in real estate for over 15 years. At the age of 29, Russell had a stroke that left him paralyzed on his right (dominant) side, hardly able to speak and unable to do many of the things that he used to do. With incredible support, the best medical care and lots of hard work, he made a full recovery. He is now a happy husband, father to two great girls and likes to mentor survivors of stroke and traumatic brain injury (TBI) at the same therapy program that helped him so much. He wants to continue supporting stroke/TBI survivors and is working on a program to provide sustainable homeless housing.

 

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