By AMERICAN HEART ASSOCIATION NEWS
Michael Trujillo graduated from Illinois State University in May with a bachelor’s degree in international business and marketing. He’s travelling this summer before starting a sales job for an international manufacturing supplier in August.
Such a “normal” life still surprises the 25-year-old from the Chicago suburb of Bolingbrook, Illinois.
Seven years ago, a hemorrhagic stroke left Trujillo unable to walk, eat, speak or care for himself.
“Doctors told me I might never be able to walk or go to school again,” he said, “but I couldn’t accept that.”
When Trujillo was just 15 days old, he was diagnosed with a rare blood disorder, a form of hemophilia.
As a child, he underwent monthly blood treatments and avoided activities that could put him at risk of injury.
Trujillo still describes his upbringing as pretty typical of others in his neighborhood. Despite the risks, he still spent many hours playing basketball.
As of May 3, 2008, things had fallen into place nicely for Trujillo. He was three weeks from high school graduation and was looking forward to a great summer before enrolling at Indiana University, where he’d been accepted into a prestigious business program.
The night before, he’d stayed out late with a friend. That morning, he was supposed to accompany his parents to pick up his sister from college. But when he woke up, all he wanted to do was sleep.
He was still in bed when his parents returned a few hours later. He pleaded for another hour of sleep.
When his dad returned to jostle him out of bed, Trujillo didn’t respond. His mom called 911.
Testing at a nearby hospital showed bleeding both in and around Trujillo’s brain. It was a hemorrhagic stroke, which occurs when a weakened blood vessel bursts. This happens in only about 13 percent of strokes.
Surgery was needed to relieve the pressure inside his skull.
And, of course, there was his bleeding disorder to factor into any decisions.
There was talk of airlifting him to Children’s Hospital in Chicago, where his condition originally was diagnosed. But after being cautioned Trujillo might not survive the 25-minute flight, his parents agreed to have the procedure done by the onsite neurosurgeon.
Doctors encouraged his family to hope for the best, but not to expect a full recovery.
About a month later, he began to regain his speech. Even then, swallowing was an issue until he underwent surgery to correct a paralyzed vocal cord a couple months later. He wasn’t cleared to eat on his own until the following March, relying instead on a feeding tube.
For six months, Trujillo moved between hospitals and inpatient rehabilitation centers, undergoing intensive therapy.
He was still in a wheelchair and using a feeding tube when he returned home in December 2008. He doubled up on rehabilitation sessions at a satellite facility of the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago whenever he could, determined to walk again.
A hearing aid helped overcome a 65 percent hearing loss out of his left ear and surgery to help correct a deviated eye.
As arduous as the physical recovery was, seeing his friends continue with their lives also was painful.
“It was hard to be in such a different place as everyone else,” he said.
Indiana University allowed Trujillo to defer his admission for a year, but with the campus more than four hours away in Bloomington, Indiana, he decided to stick closer to home.
Pushing for independence, Trujillo enrolled at Illinois State University in the fall of 2009. The campus in Normal, Illinois, was about 1 1/2 hours from his parents.
Campus life proved to be more difficult than he anticipated. He used a walker when possible, but that usually was for limited periods of time. It left him overtired. So he more often used a wheelchair, only to have that leaving him feeling isolated.
After a semester, Trujillo returned home and enrolled in a local community college. He resumed his therapy, working himself to the point where he could walk using a quad cane. Then, in the spring of 2011, he returned to Illinois State University.
In 2013, Trujillo reached another key milestone: being able to jog a few steps outside, without the support of a safety harness.
“It was a huge emotional experience for me,” he said.
Trujillo still needs support when jogging, and has a cane to steady himself. He admits he doesn’t use it as much as he should, adding that his mom teases that he “looks drunk” when walking without it.
This spring, Trujillo shared his story though a social media platform for Illinois State University and worked with the American Heart Association to share his story in a local newspaper. He hopes sharing his story will give hope to others who have been affected by stroke.
Stroke is the No. 5 cause of death and a leading cause of long-term disability in the United States. Doctors were unable to pinpoint the cause of Trujillo’s stroke, but said his blood disorder likely contributed to it.
“I just want people to know that as hard as it is, don’t give up,” Trujillo said. “Stay determined and keep working at it. Anything is possible.”
Photos courtesy of Michael Trujillo
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