EAU CLAIRE, Wis. (WEAU)- “We cried a lot,” said Bonnie Niles.
On March 7th, 2017, Chris Niles of Eau Claire was found unresponsive.
“You were living your life normally, and then this happened and then it's a blur?” said Bonnie, Chris’ mother.
“Yes,” he answered.
Chris suffered from the deadliest kind of stroke, with bleeding in his brain; and he was only 34-years-old then. Leaving his family with a life or death decision, which his mother said was the most difficult moment.
“Christopher has always been one of the most determined people I have ever met,” she said.
And because of that, Chris is now in out-patient therapy one year later.
“Yes, long, long, long journey,” Chris said.
While March 7th marks the one year anniversary that Chris was brought through the doors at Sacred Heart Hospital, his family is choosing to not look at this as a day of sadness, but a day of celebration.
“A celebration that he’s still with us,” Bonnie said. “It could have gone so terribly wrong if he hadn't been found when he did.”
While some parents only get to see their kids take their first steps once in their lives, “with each thing he could do I thought I’d never thought I’d see it again,” Bonnie said.
Chris is now back walking and talking.
“It was a major improvement when he got into a wheelchair, except they wanted to give him speeding tickets because he was going so fast down the hall and speeding around corners,” she said.
Today, he's even turned those two wheels in, for four.
“I can drive, that's one thing,” Chris said.
Health experts said the average age someone has a stroke is 67 and it's because Chris was so young, therapists said it helped his recovery.
“Typically we see the outcomes are better on our younger patients, so getting that intensive therapy right out the gate really helps improve outcomes for a younger person like Chris,” said Anne Sadowska, the inpatient therapy manager at HSHS Sacred Heart Hospital.
But Chris has never lost his determination.
“One of the things I always talk to the family and the stroke patient about is that their attitude will make or break them; I always encouraged Chris to have a positive attitude,” said Stroke Program Coordinator Jeannie Pittenger at Sacred Heart Hospital, who has seen Chris throughout his journey.
While his road to recovery is not over, Chris said his next goal is getting closer each day.
“More independent,” he said.
“It’s an uphill climb and you got to do what your therapists say, and you will get better even though it doesn't look like it day by day,” said his mother.
Chris is very involved in theater in Eau Claire. He currently helps with sound management at the Eau Claire Children’s Theatre, and that’s exactly where he plans on going back.
Health experts said 80 percent of strokes are preventable, and a lot of it depends on how you take care of yourself in Chris' case he had high blood pressure.
“About 85 percent of strokes are ischemic, 15 percent of hemorrhagic, however the hemorrhagic are more deadly,” Pittenger said. “However about 80 percent are preventable, so it’s looking at your risk factors: high blood pressure, diabetes, smoking, high cholesterol…those are the main causes or risk factors, but genetics does play a role.”
Pittenger adds looking out for signs of a stroke include the terms “FAST” or “BEFAST”: Balance; Eyesight; Facial Weakness; Arm/Leg Weakness; Speech; Timing to call 911.
HSHS Sacred Heart and St. Joseph’s hospitals are also offering new support groups for people who have suffered a stroke and are looking to return to independent living, including going back to work. The group will meet March 29th from 12 p.m. – 1 p.m. at Green Mill in Eau Claire. You can register by calling 715-7171-4338.