NextGen Story No. 1,569
“What’s Your Name?”
Having a stroke can put your golf game—and your entire life—on hold. It’s bad enough to temporarily lose the skills you have built over a lifetime of competitive and recreational golfing, but when you can’t remember the names of family members and close friends, it can be downright terrifying.
That’s where George Ladwig found himself on New Year’s Eve 2008. It started with the 62-year-old West Covina resident abruptly switching subjects in the middle of a conversation with his girlfriend, Belinda. She thought he was just joking around. He didn’t know what she was talking about. But as the conversation continued, George kept rambling.
Convinced that he was just exhausted from a stressful quarter of work at his advertising job with AT&T, George decided to relax with some dinner. After eating, he still wasn’t feeling well. Maybe a nap would help, he thought. It was only 8:30, so he could rest awhile and still be back downstairs in time to watch TV coverage of the ball dropping in New York’s Times Square.
Sensing that something potentially serious was going on, before George fell asleep, he started listing the names of all the family members and friends he could think of. Then he set the list aside and drifted off.
When he woke up again at 11:30, he felt better. After the New Year’s Eve festivities wrapped up on TV, George returned to his bedroom, where he remembered the list he had put together earlier in the evening. He was startled at what he saw.
“About a half a dozen names were misspelled, and there were a couple people where I put the husband’s name down but not the wife’s—and I knew that I knew the wife’s name—or I put the wife’s name but not the husband’s name,” George said. “So I knew that wasn’t right. I probably did a 90 percent job, but normally you would think you’d do a hundred percent.”
He was shaken by the realization that something had affected his thinking, but he was somehow able to get to sleep. The next day—New Year’s Day 2009—George felt normal. He and Belinda drove to a restaurant to meet an out-of-town friend for brunch. The food arrived, and the friends settled in to eat and talk. But during the conversation, George’s problem from the night before returned.
“I noticed that I was getting into that same pattern that I was doing the night before,” George said. He was rambling again, switching subjects and not making a lot of sense.
Belinda noticed it, and so did their friend. They asked George if he was feeling OK.
“You know, something’s not right,” George confessed to them. “I’m not sure what’s going on.”
A Physical Meltdown
By early afternoon, George and Belinda were concerned enough about George’s condition that they drove to the emergency department at Methodist Hospital.
“Right off, they noticed that I needed blood,” George said, “so they gave me three units of blood.”
Because of his memory loss and other symptoms, the emergency physician on duty suspected that George might be having a stroke. As the examination continued, the doctor discovered another area of concern: It appeared that George was suffering a mild heart attack. But even that wasn’t the full extent of his medical issues; he was later found to have a bleeding ulcer.
“It looks like the stroke and heart attack were starting on New Year’s Eve,” George said. “By our going to the hospital, they got hold of it, so that was probably one of the better things I could have done.”
Over the next six hours, four physician specialists visited George.
“They all said to me, ‘You’re lucky to be alive,’” George recalled. “You know, for four doctors to say that to you independent of each other, that was very, very scary.”
Taking It All In
Understandably, George was shocked when the physicians at Methodist Hospital told him about his multiple health issues. He is a strapping man: well over six feet tall, 250 pounds, a lifelong athlete, a former Marine.
“You feel like you’re in pretty good shape,” he said, “but you can’t see what’s going on inside you.”
George spent the next five days as a patient at Methodist Hospital, undergoing tests, receiving treatment and learning how to modify his diet and lifestyle to successfully recover from his ailments and ensure that he remains healthy in the future. He gave his experience at Methodist Hospital an “A+.”
“The cleaning staff, the aides, the LVNs, the RNs—every one of them, I couldn’t rate less than 100 percent,” he said. “Every department I went to, there was never anyone who wasn’t nice to me.”
He even joked with the staff, asking for larger socks to fit his size 13-1/2 feet.
The weeks and months following his stroke were difficult, frustrating and challenging for George. He was thankful to have not suffered any paralysis, but his ability to think and remember had been severely affected by the ordeal. His doctor told him that he would have to be patient during his recovery period.
“When you hear a doctor say that your memory could take a year or longer to come back, that’s a little scary,” George said. “You think about how you are mentally and what you think your capacities are, then they start to diminish. But the doctors said that my memory would come back in time. ‘Just don’t push it,’ they told me, ‘and you’ll remember what you were trying to say.”
The Road to Recovery
George didn’t just sit around waiting for his mental sharpness to return. Motivated by a desire to show significant improvement during every follow-up visit with his doctor, he began playing memory games, he played cards with his son, he used his computer to do Internet research on various topics, he worked with a dictionary and flash cards to rebuild his vocabulary and spelling skills, and he read everything he could get his hands on. The hard work paid off.
“Every month that goes by, I feel like I’m getting sharper,” George said, “and my memory is more focused.”
He has also increased his physical activity for the health of his heart and his brain. During the days following his release from the hospital, he relaxed and, at the same time, built his strength and stamina by tending to his container garden at his West Covina home.
Back in the Swing of Life
One of George’s great passions—golfing—also played a key role in his recovery. His lifelong love of the game began at age 13 when his uncle presented him with a gift of hand-forged clubs from Scotland. In both his junior and senior years of high school, he came in second place among 180 golfers in the southern division of high school golf in his home state of Texas. He continued to excel at the game during his years at Southwest Texas University.
Playing golf for up to six hours a day, five days a week, was actually one of his duties when he served at the Marine Corps Recruit Depot in San Diego. He and his partner won all their games against their military and university opponents. During that time, George was playing a two to four handicap. Right out of the military, he was offered a club pro position in Corpus Christi, Texas, but opted to remain in California.
So it is understandable that George was anxious to get back to golfing as soon as possible following his stroke. Because he had not been paralyzed during the incident, he only had to overcome the weakness that resulted from his multiple conditions.
“My doctors said it was OK for me to hit some golf balls,” George said. “In fact, they actually encouraged it to help my heart recover and to get my strength and my hand-eye coordination back. So I started hitting practice balls about three times a week. It seemed like it did a lot for me.”
In order to maximize the physical benefits, George sent his golf bag on ahead in the cart and walked between holes on the golf course.
“I got my golf game back pretty quickly,” he said. “I started shooting some pretty low scores.”
A Bright Future
Today, it’s more than George’s golf game that’s on the upswing; he’s getting his entire life back in order. After a four-month leave of absence, he returned to his job at AT&T, where the activity and constant interaction with other people has helped him continue to regain his memory and verbal abilities. He’s back on the golf course at least twice a month, playing with a handicap of seven to nine.
Best of all, his girlfriend, Belinda, who had urged him to seek medical help on New Year’s Day and had stayed at his side throughout his recovery, became his wife on April 17.
“She’s been a great source of encouragement,” he said, “and she was a great nurse.”
Whether he’s on the golf course, at work or at home with Belinda, it is clear that George has made tremendous strides since he walked into Methodist Hospital’s emergency department on New Year’s Day with multiple, serious health issues. At the stroke of midnight of the next new year, he will truly have much to celebrate.
If you experience any of these symptoms of stroke, don’t wait! Call 911 immediately.
- Sudden numbness or weakness of the face, arm or leg, especially on one side of the body
- Sudden confusion, trouble speaking or understanding
- Sudden trouble seeing in one or both eyes
- Sudden trouble walking, dizziness, loss of balance or coordination
- Sudden, severe headache with no known cause
Source: American Heart Association