By JOANNE FOX
Both Kory Alesch and Brad Collins have suffered strokes, but any impairment they’ve experienced has not impacted their sense of humor.
During an interview at Mercy Medical Center – Sioux City’s rehab courtyard, their ear-to-ear grins were infectious as Kory hid Brad’s cane and pulled Brad’s baseball cap over his eyes, and Brad mocked Kory’s professional football team of choice.
Their wives, Jamie Alesch and Joan Collins, were as much delighted in watching their antics as was Nicole Shea, Mercy Stroke Program Manager.
The two couples were brought together by a disorder that is no longer “an old people’s disease,” Shea insisted. Alesch and Collins experienced their strokes at an age most would consider young.
Brad Collins of Hinton is 55 and suffered a stroke on May 7, 2015. Kory Alesch of Remsen is 46 and had his stroke on March 9, 2015.
The strokes impacted the ability of the two men to talk and walk, and use their hands for tasks others take for granted; such as, getting dressed, eating dinner or brushing teeth.
Brad was diagnosed with Atrial fibrillation (AFib) during a routine exam for life insurance and was put on appropriate medication.
“I had no symptoms before the stroke happened,” he said. “I was moving rail cars (for my job) and suddenly was on the ground. I don’t remember much else from then and the next two weeks.”
“I remember thinking about a grandfather who had a stroke at age 82 and couldn’t believe it was happening to Brad,” Jamie recalled, then emotionally, added, “It’s truly a life-changing event.”
Kory’s stroke took place at work, sitting in his pay loader. A coworker noticed Kory was not moving.
“The other guy kept asking Kory what was wrong and he kept repeating, ‘I don’t know,’” said Jamie, as Kory struggled with responses to questions.
An ambulance transported Kory to Floyd Valley Hospital where doctors discovered a blocked carotid artery.
“At first I was relieved, because I knew a carotid artery could be unblocked,” Jamie said. “Then, I knew something was seriously wrong when I asked Kory my name and he replied, ‘Jeremy.’”
Kory was life-flighted to Omaha and doctors gave “little, to no hope” of his survival, Jamie recalled.
“They were not optimistic,” Jamie said, wiping away tears. “They were pretty sure he would be in a vegetative state after surgery, as clots were in his leg and they had discovered a hole in his heart.”
The couples met at Madonna Rehabilitation Hospital, Lincoln, Neb. Kory spent six months there and Brad five months.
“If you are looking for a blessing that’s come out of this tragedy it’s the bond we’ve formed,” Jamie said, as the others nodded. “You know we have each other’s backs and I think you don’t feel so alone.”
Brad admitted to missing day-to-day happenings others take for granted.
“Driving and not being able to do things with my sons are challenging,” he said. “I miss the normalcy.”
In a folder with pictures and words, Kory pointed out to Jamie what frustrated him.
“Communication and physical interaction with our children have been tough,” she said of his choices and clarified, “and our interaction as a couple has changed as he struggles to talk.”
The Alesches and the Collinses praised Mercy Medical Center’s stroke camp (see breakout box) for providing a weekend for some much-needed relaxation.
“Stroke Camp runs much the same way as any summer camp with modifications for stroke survivors,” said Shea. “The mission of Retreat & Refresh Stroke Camp is to improve the quality of life for stroke survivors, caregivers and their families.”
According to the American Heart Association’s 2017 statistics, stroke ranks No. 5 among all causes of deaths in the United States. Someone suffers a stroke every 40 seconds and stroke kills someone about every four minutes.
As a caregiver, Jamie turns to Bible verses when she feels overwhelmed. The Alesches are parishioners at Holy Name Church, Marcus.
“’Be still and know that I am God’ and ‘With God, I can do all things,’ are two of my favorites,” she said. “I believe our family is healing. We are laughing, having fun, not so angry as we once were.”
“I believe God doesn’t give you more than you can handle, but this experience has given me a whole new perspective on life,” said Joan, who with Brad, belongs to All Saints Parish in Le Mars.
“However, I took marriage vows 35 years ago and I intend to keep them,” she insisted.
“Does that include honor and,” Brad paused and his eyes twinkled, “obey?”
The laughter was deafening.
Stroke Camp announced
Mercy Medical Center, in conjunction with Siouxland Stroke Support Network, will host a “Retreat and Refresh Stroke Camp,” Sept. 15-17. This camp brings stroke survivors and their families together for a weekend of support, education, fun and respite.
Camp will be held at Inspiration Hills Camp, outside of Inwood, Iowa. This location was carefully chosen for its hotel-style private rooms and camp atmosphere. Crafts, games, educational sessions, pampering, outdoor activities, chats with experts and entertainment will be offered.
To sign up for the camp, contact Nicole Shea at (712) 279-5879. The cost of camp – including meals, lodging and activities – is $125/camper ($250 per couple). Financial assistance is available.