AUSTIN -- As May comes to a close so does National Stroke Awareness Month. A stroke can occur quickly and often without warning. Proof can be found in one Austin man's battle to get back the life he once had.
Tony Poole, 50, gets put through the paces at St. David's Rehabilitation Hospital.
He would prefer to spend his time snowboarding down pristine slopes. Home video of Poole in action was shot in Oregon, but Poole's snowboarding was temporarily shot down in Utah. And not on the slopes, but in his room while he slept the night of March 24, 2012.
"I didn't realize what was wrong," said Poole. "I didn't have the compression that something had happened to me in my sleep."
Poole had suffered an ischemic stroke in his sleep. An ischemic stroke is a stroke that occurs as a result of an obstruction within a blood vessel supplying blood to the brain. According to the National Stroke Association, ischemic stroke accounts for about 87 percent of all cases.
"I was a mess," said Poole. "Physically and mentally I was just devastated. I could not walk. I had severe paralysis on my left side."
Now, the man used to competing in half-Ironman triathlons and riding his bike 100 miles a week, could do very little.
"This thing just blew me out of the water," he said.
Poole says his friends on his snowboarding trip weren't sure what had happened to him. Neurologists say that's common, but there are specific things to look for.
"Can you talk, smile or hold up your arm," said Tom Hill, M.D., a neurologist at St. David's Rehabilitation Hospital. "Most people who have a stroke can hold this one up and this one's down here. As they say that's a no-brainer, something's wrong."
After he was stabilized in Utah, Poole returned to Austin and, with the help of the therapists at St. David's, has attacked his rehab with the same determination he tackled the slopes.
"They're trying to coax your brain to doing certain things that the brain doesn't want to do," said Poole. "You have to trick it, so they devised techniques to do that."
Techniques that get his muscle groups to fire as they did prior to his stroke.
"You didn't think about what you did to move your arm," he said. "These days I have to consciously think about that movement which isn't very elegant as you can see."
The rehab helped Poole return to work just six months after his stroke. Now a year after the stroke, Poole has both goals and doubts.
"I'm starting to have my doubts about my ability to get completely back," he said. "I'll be happy to be the best I can given my impairments. That will be my goal."
And he has one other goal: To be back on the slopes this winter.
Click here to read the warning signs of stroke.
Click here to visit St. David's Rehabilitation Hospital website.