Terry Perry is 40 years old, lives in Malibu, California, and has generally been a healthy guy all his life. He holds a black belt in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and had originally planned on making a career for himself with the Los Angeles Fire Department. After Perry’s mother suffered a stroke, he returned home to help rehab her back. Then, on Christmas Day 2017, he experienced a traumatic and life-altering stoke himself, at 40. This is his rattling story from the very first symptom, to a misdiagnosis, a dangerous surgery, and the debilitating stroke itself. And, his road to recovery.
Perry’s comeback has been a long one, and he’s made tremendous strides forward, but says he’s still a work in progress. A positive attitude, patience, and a strong support system are what’s getting him back to his old self.
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Doctors said a left vertebral artery tear caused the stroke symptoms. How did that type of injury happen?
It’s a bit unclear how the injury actually happened. I was having some headaches the week prior which was not irregular. Usually when this occurred I went to see my chiropractor and the adjustments would usually subside the symptoms.
I saw my chiropractor on Monday, November 27th. Immediately after the neck adjustment, I experienced a fairly intense pain in the back of my head. That pain did not subside the next day so I saw him again. Instead of doing adjustments, he did more massage for the muscles around my head and neck. That night, while on the phone, I experienced a sensation of dizziness that lasted for roughly 20-30 seconds, but I didn’t think much of it.
While at yoga the next night (Tuesday, November 28th), during a pose I had to turn my head to the right, I experienced the same sensation, however this time it was longer and I had to lay down as the dizziness made me close my eyes. At home the same evening, I experienced the same symptoms again, however this time was even longer, perhaps up to a minute.
Thursday morning (November 29th), I went to the ER to see what was going on. After a CT scan found nothing (they weren’t looking for the right thing), they released me back home with “vertigo.”
Friday morning (November 30th), I had the most traumatic episode yet. It lasted about six-eight minutes, and again, I had to close my eyes due to the dizziness, but this time I lost the use of my right side, both leg and arm, had convulsions, and could not speak. Once it started to subside, I could barely get myself sat up and I yelled for my mother (I was at her house) screaming at what level I could, “MOM!”, but it came out a completely slurred murmur of a sound. She finally came to me after about a minute of yelling, saw what was going on, and called the EMS. By the time they had come, the symptoms had completely subsided and was able to speak to them. I went to the ER again, and after another CT in which they found nothing, they almost tried to release me again with “vertigo”. However with my mother being there (who is a two-time stroke recovery story), told them we HAD to see a neurologist. Once we spoke to him, within two minutes of explaining the symptoms, he demanded that I be admitted to the hospital for further testing. Something was definitely up.
Through the day (Friday, November 30th) I did more tests (CT’s and MRI’s), had two more episodes and waited to hear what was going on. Then came another episode. I collapsed on a nurse helping me from the restroom to my bed, and I had all the same symptoms, however this one lasted for nearly two hours and came right back again. Like the others, this was not a stroke, because I was fine after the events. They admitted me to the ICU as I was becoming more unstable by the hour. They got me on Heparin drips, tPA at one point, and kept doing more tests. [Heparin is an anticoagulant, or blood thinner; and tPA is short for tissue plasminogen activator, it’s purpose is to dissolve blood clots.]
Finally something was found. They found that my left vertebral artery looked like a dog chewed it. It was very irregularly sized, looked like a heartbeat on an EKG, and was “dissected”, in another word: torn. They then scheduled a possible solution surgery in three-four days, but wanted to see if medication would correct the issue first. Unfortunately, it did not. Shortly thereafter, I had the most severe and significant episode to date and they could not wait any longer, they had to perform the surgery.
They went in my groin with a catheter, and with a camera went up to the base of my brain and looked around at my vertebral arteries. While they were in there, they found my right vertebral artery was also slightly torn as well as the base of my basal artery which is where the two vertebral arteries join. After five stents were installed, two in each vertebral arteries and one in the basal artery, I woke up and had made it through the surgery. (I was told that only 10-20% of people survive the surgery.)
All of my doctors attributed this tear to chiropractic adjustments, but they could not definitively cast blame on any one thing. It could have been a coincidence that my first symptoms were within 24 hours of that adjustment.
What did you need to do next?
I spent another week in the hospital recovering and resting. I have not had another episode since, however other issues ensued. Two days after returning home, I woke up with double vision which did not go away so I returned to the hospital for another week of observation. It finally subsided and I had a change in blood thinning medication. They also had found that since the surgery, that problem left vertebral artery has clotted up and completely closed, however they did not want to clear it as doing so may have caused me to have a more significant stroke. I now function with only one vertebral artery feeding my brain.
I returned home for another few days.
But then you actually had a stroke on Christmas Day. Do the doctors know exactly why that happened?
I think I had PTSD from sleeping in the spare bedroom at my mother’s house so I decided to sleep on the Lazyboy instead. When it laid out it was very similar to my hospital bed. After a couple days I awoke on Christmas morning at 2:45am with the room spinning and my heart in tachycardia. [Tachycardia is an abnormally rapid heart rate.] My mother was asleep on the couch next to me and as you can imagine, as I’m her only child, she had not slept much over the last several weeks. These symptoms subsided so I thought it may have been just a part of the healing process. Nope. At 6:45am we both woke up and she had said, “Merry Christmas Terry”, I responded but my words came out slow and slurred. I told her what I had experienced earlier in the morning and she looked at me and said, “Let’s go. I think you had a stroke.” After another visit to the ER and back to taking more tests, they confirmed that I had a small dot on my right cerebellum. The stroke was “most likely” caused from my body fighting the new foreign objects in my arteries. It threw a blood clot that went to my brain.
How long did it take you recover?
It took a number of months to adjust to my new normal. I went through many changes in blood thinners until we found one that worked. I had restrictions to movement and the amount of weight I could move. For a number of months I was restricted to 50 pounds, and have been advised to not be involved with Jiu Jitsu, surfing, yoga, or anything that can put my head or neck in dangerous because it could quite possibly cause a dissection to my artery. I’ve basically been restricted from all of my passions.
I’m still recovering to this day. I have been seeing occupational, physical, and speech therapist for five or six months now. The stroke left me with the most debilitations: slurred speech, partial loss of mobility of my right arm, hand and leg, memory and cognitive issues, and muscle imbalance. I’ve been cleared by the occupational therapist and the physical therapist, however I’m still seeing a speech therapist. You could look at me and not know because I’ve recovered very well, but I still struggle with some mobility tasks, speech, and some memory and cognition. Compared to where I was, I have come a long way.
How would you say this affected you mentally?
My mentality has been a rollercoaster to say the least. It may be possible that I have PTSD from the events and ordeal. I’ve even found it a bit difficult to write out this story. I try to remember something a nurse said as I was waking up from the surgery, “You have a reason to be here. Someone has a plan for you.”
I complained and got depressed over the fact that I cannot perform in my numerous passions. I try to be positive every day. I have my life and I just need to reinvent myself and find other activities to pursue. I may have to change careers as well. I’ve felt as though I’ve hit a new low, but it may just be an opportunity for complete reinvention. It’s hard to remind myself that there’s certain things I should not do but as one doctor said to me, “Look, we’re advising you what you should not do. We are not telling you what you can’t do. It is your life, and you have to decide what tasks or activities you will take a risk for.”
What were your keys to success in making a comeback?
The recovery has been quite long, however I’ve taken many people’s advice, performed many therapeutic modalities, and rested. I’ve also been seeing a therapist to talk about all the feelings and issues I experience. It’s helped immensely.
In the first months of recovery I had to get myself out of bed to just to walk downstairs, then it became the driveway, then it became around the block, then twice around the block, a mile, etc. I’m seeing an acupuncturist that specializes in stroke recovery, and I believe that has helped immensely too. At the end of the day, the success has come from the people in my life giving me support, insight, and love. This has helped me in my attitude to wake up each day and do what I can to help myself recover and get back to as close as I can to my old normal. It’s also given me the encouragement I’ve needed to move forward with my life.
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What’s your best advice for people who are going through something similar?
At times it was very hard to listen to people and their advice as I thought my life was pretty much done. With the physical limitations and being such an avid outdoor enthusiast and active person, it’s been tough to get back on track. However, with all of the therapies, the acupuncture, and now for the last two months not having a restriction of weight limits, I’m back on the HFP workout programs I had been doing for nearly two years prior.
Meditation has helped greatly in easing my anxiety and centering myself. I believe it’s the making yourself get up every day and do something that will improve your life or wellbeing. Get plenty of rest. Do research into different modalities that can help you heal, and eat as clean and organic as possible. I gained weight, and most of all body fat, but I’ve really tuned-in to eating right, sleeping right, moving right, and just in the two months I’m back working out like I used to and shedding that excess weight off.
Keep one foot in front of the other and keep moving forward at your pace. I forget who wrote this quote, but I said this at our last jiu jitsu belt promotion, “The only reason you should look back is to see how far you’ve come”.
What has this whole experience taught you?
I hate to sound cliche, but I’ve learned a lot of patience. I’ve learned to listen to friends and colleagues. I’ve learned that even losing some of my most prized passions, they do not define me. This world is full of activities to gain new knowledge, skills, and challenges. Whether I look at it as, “this is the hand I’ve been dealt” or not, I have my life, my friends, and my family. I’m very grateful that I have been giving the chance to continue with this life. It may be, and have been a very dark and scary time, but I’m here today looking at a near full recovery ahead. How ever I can help others to inspire them to keep moving forward in whatever it is they’re going through, I hope my story can give them hope and inspiration.
Support Terry Perry as he continues along the road to recovery by giving him a follow on Instagram (@kiwikimura) and sharing some words of encouragement.
He’s currently following the 4-week Reconstruction workout plan from HFP. You can find out more about the plan here.