Hear Us Roar: Better
April 2019 Issue
Photography by Christian Lee
Brian & Melissa LeBaron
Career: Brian: District Manager for Wells Fargo
Brian: Middletown, New York
Melissa: Brighton, Michigan
Brian, you suffered a stroke at the very young age of 37. Tell us about that experience.
Were you in good health before it happened?
I believed I was in good health before my stroke occurred. I was only 37, didn’t smoke or drink, and was not overweight nor had previous health issues. One Sunday morning during our normal routine with the kids, I had sudden numbness in my left arm that quickly spread to my face and leg. I was having a hard time standing and was unable to communicate properly. This lasted about five minutes, and I told my wife what had occurred. She recognized the symptoms of stroke right away, and thankfully rushed me to the local emergency room, where they did a CT scan and MRI, discovering I had suffered multiple strokes.
What was your recovery journey like?
I spent the first three days in the hospital as my doctors attempted to determine the cause of the strokes. On the third day, they discovered through a transesophageal echocardiogram (TEE) I had what is known as a Patent Foramen Ovale, PFO, which is a hole between the upper chambers of the heart that usually closes naturally at some point after birth. I was sent to a specialist in Miami to get the PFO closure done, and that’s when I found out I also suffer from Atrial Fibrillation. I have been on blood thinners ever since, but was extremely lucky to not have major deficits after my stroke.
Melissa, what was the journey like for the family?
The kids were very young at the time, so we were fortunate Brian didn’t have long-term effects. We had family and friends who generously helped us with meals and the children when Brian was in the hospital both times.
Sadly, and not a little bit ironically, actor Luke Perry recently died of a stroke at age 52.
Is this—and yours—a rare occurrence, or are younger age stroke victims
becoming more prevalent?
While rare, younger stroke victims are on the rise due to obesity and chronic conditions like diabetes. My stroke was rare, as it was caused from a congenital heart defect. More than 100,000 Americans suffer strokes each year from a PFO. In my case, I also had Atrial Fibrillation, which assisted in the clot formation that caused the three strokes in my brain.
Since the stroke, how has the way you look at life and live your lives changed?
We both look at life differently since then. After the stroke, we made exercising and diet changes a top priority for ourselves and our family. Every year since, we have been participants in the annual American Heart Association’s Heart Walk. Brian is also the chair for the Palmetto Heart Walk. Our goal in the future is to educate more people about stroke prevention and healthy living. (See page 63 for details on the Palmetto Heart Walk.)
If you could drop everything for a week, put it all behind you, and take off for anywhere in the world, where would you go?
We would love to go to Australia one day. When we first met, Melissa was writing a 20-page travel guide on Australia for school, and we’ve wanted to vacation there ever since.
Saturday nights are for:
Family! Our kids are very involved in sports and activities, so we like to spend Saturday nights relaxing.
What are you Roaring about?
Brian: I am a three-time stroke survivor, a heart disease survivor, a congenital heart defect survivor. I chose to be better today than yesterday, and with the support of my amazing wife and family, I am. I still have the opportunity to be better tomorrow. Childhood obesity is at an all-time high, and childhood activity is at an all-time low. We have more education than ever today on healthy living, and we do less with it. We owe it to our children and ourselves to learn better habits, such an incorporating exercise into our daily lives and eating healthy and balanced diets. Through the American Heart Association and the lives of my four children, I plan to do my best to increase education on stroke prevention, living with heart disease and how to maintain a healthy lifestyle.