Stroke survivors raise awareness for Strides for Stroke Walk

Election Day in 2016 marked the calendar that changed the course of the world – it’s also the day that changed the course of Kevin Toby’s life.

He started just another day at Blue Cross Blue Shield in Minnesota, keeping Toby on campus working as a process engineer. He was cleaning out cooling towers for the season when he started bumping into things.

He told FOX 9. “I didn’t feel well. I sat in front of the computer at break time, and suddenly my entire right side was numb and I knew right away I was having a stroke.”

Emergency crews rushed Tupy to Southdale’s M Health Fairview Hospital, which specializes in stroke care. Doctors immediately put Toby in an induced coma and gave his wife two frightening options. The first is to do nothing and Kevin may have a 10 percent chance of surviving. The second option was to perform a risky craniotomy and go deeper into the brain to stop the bleeding.

“I decided to have the surgery,” Toby said.

When doctors removed part of his skull to relieve pressure on the brain, they discovered that the bleeding had stopped.

“It was kind of a miracle,” he recalls.

But when he finally came out of his coma after three weeks, he learned that he had weakness on the right side of his body and a loss of speech which affected his speech. He also learned that Donald Trump was elected president.

After intense occupational therapy and six years of never giving up, he still exercises at Courage Kenny’s fitness center twice a week.

“My arms are still kinda missing in action, but my legs are strong from my knees up,” Toby said.

None of that stopped him from living his best and getting outdoors as much as he could. Through Courage Kenny’s adaptive therapy programs, Tupy learned how to bike, fish, and even ski. It uses a left shaft with a small ski attached to the bottom to give it stability. At first he was sliding down the slopes with another skier strapped behind him.

“Last season I tried to go independently, which for me is no strings attached, and I was able to do it,” he said. “It’s all proof that if you work hard, good things can come out of it.”

Tupy and his family are using his expertise to raise awareness of stroke.

Centers for Disease Control data shows that someone has a stroke every 40 seconds. In Minnesota, more than 100,000 people have a stroke, and unfortunately, it is now the sixth leading cause of death in the state.

“Strokes occur at any age,” said Brad Donaldson of the Minnesota Stroke Association.

People often think that it is a condition that only affects older adults. But for unexplained reasons, more young people are suffering from stroke, and it disproportionately affects communities of color.

The Minnesota Department of Health reports that the death rate from stroke is 40 percent higher for blacks and Asians.

“This is why we push so hard for people to be aware of the signs and symptoms of stroke with the FAST message,” Donaldson said. Weakness of the face, weakness of the arm, slurred speech, difficulty and a “T” which is a loss of time.

Donaldson explains that time is crucial.

“Loss of time is loss of brain,” Donaldson said. “Get help. Contact our medical facilities – they are the best in the business. Let them help you.”

Raising awareness of stroke is part of the reason Tupy and his family joined this year’s Strides for Stroke Walking by the Minnesota Brain Injury Alliance. The rally takes place on Saturday, May 21, at Long Lake Regional Park in New Brighton. Families can register here.

After two years of making “virtual steps for stroke” due to health safety concerns during the pandemic, this year’s event is back in person.

“This is until it becomes, in essence, almost like a family reunion,” Donaldson said. “People come back year after year and you can see how far their journey has gone, how their families and their support systems have grown and how they have evolved.”

Tupy’s team will be walking too. His wife and three daughters will join him at the event, hoping to raise awareness and provide funds to help the Minnesota Stroke Association provide support and services for stroke survivors.

“It’s amazing how common stroke is and it doesn’t get a lot of publicity,” Toby said. “It gives a face and a voice that we’re here.”

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