By AMERICAN HEART ASSOCIATION NEWS
Kathy Hutton was a high school junior when she fell in love with her husband, David.
“It was love at first sight,” Kathy said. “He was the cutest thing I’d ever seen.”
Two years later, they were married and soon had son Graham and daughter Chelsea. David worked as a disc jockey for a local radio station and money was tight.
“We were poor, so we couldn’t do much. But I remember special moments just sitting at a park and talking,” Kathy said. “That’s what I miss the most, the talking.”
In January 2014, David had a stroke after shoveling an unexpected snowfall that had kept the couple from Lebanon, Missouri, home for the day.
Kathy had been napping when she heard a crash in the kitchen. She found David, then 53, on the floor, his speech slurring. At first, she thought he was just tired from shoveling snow, but when David tried to support himself to stand, his right arm gave out.
At the local hospital, he received the clot-busting drug tPA and was transported to a stroke center in Springfield, Missouri, where testing showed swelling in his brain.
Doctors performed a craniotomy, temporarily removing the left bone flap of David’s skull to relieve the pressure. The stroke had caused significant damage to the left side of his brain.
“He lost control of the entire right side of his body,” Kathy said.
David spent several weeks in the hospital, and nearly six months in a rehabilitation center before going home.
At the time of his stroke, David was being treated for high blood pressure and high cholesterol. He had a family history of heart disease, losing family members on both sides to heart attack.
“I always figured he’d die of a heart attack too, but I never imagined he could have a stroke,” Kathy said.
Stroke is the No. 5 cause of death in the United States and is a leading cause of disability.
David now spends his days in a motorized wheelchair or a recliner chair. A home health aide comes each day while Kathy goes to work as a cemetery administrator.
The Huttons, who recently celebrated their 33rd anniversary, can no longer afford rehabilitation therapy due to reductions in Medicaid benefits. David can stand briefly, but not much else. His speech is limited to a few words, along with gestures that Kathy does her best to translate.
“Sometimes he gets really angry, and so do I, because I can’t always figure out what he wants,” she said.
Kathy gets encouragement and some help from extended family and friends, as well as Graham, who is now 30, and Chelsea, who is 25.
“It’s tough,” she said. “Sometimes I feel really alone.”
On the rare occasion she can get away, Kathy goes to a movie or eats out with a friend. She found a local support group but can’t attend because it meets when she’s at work.
As hard as coping can be, Kathy said it’s the little moments she misses most.
“That little kiss you get in the car at a red light, I’ll never get that again,” she said. “That’s the hardest part.”
One bright spot for the couple has been visits from their four grandchildren, who are all under 6 years old.
“To them, he’s just grandpa and they’ll climb up on his chair and love him or try to help,” Kathy said. “They don’t see disability, they just see him as a person.”
Photos courtesy of Kathy Hutton