Keystone hemorrhagic stroke survivor celebrates five-year anniversary
Marti Koehn hates to drive.
In her mind, it’s a waste of time. She said there are about one million other things she could be doing instead of sitting behind the wheel of a car. So for 32 years of marriage, Larry drove them everywhere.
This week, on their way from Summit County to Lake Tahoe for a family vacation, and for the past five years, Marti has been the one in the driver’s seat.
On July 26, 2017, Larry suffered from a hemorrhagic stroke from the right side of his brain that took away his driver’s license and much more.
The unexpected incident
Before Larry’s stroke, he worked for 20 years as a construction project superintendent and was an avid outdoorsman. Though Marti and Larry are from Gilbert, Arizona, the two own a home in Keystone. He skied on the Breckenridge slopes and loves to hike, fish and golf.
In his daily life, he spent nearly every day at construction sites, managing up to 150 to 200 people a day.
On a particularly hot Wednesday in July of 2017, Larry took a bathroom break while at the construction site of a culinary buildout he was supervising at Phoenix North High School in Arizona.
He recalls that he felt a bit dizzy and lightheaded at the time but didn’t think much of it.
The last thing he remembers is looking at something high up on the bathroom wall.
Almost an hour later, one of Larry’s coworkers found him crumpled on the bathroom floor, halfway in and out of the bathroom stall.
On the way to the emergency room, Marti recalled that Larry’s hand had unexpectedly swelled up with cellulitis that past Saturday. It had to be something related to that, so there was little reason to worry.
But as she entered the hospital, she saw that two of Larry’s coworkers were there waiting for her. The look on their faces was enough to know things weren’t OK.
Marti was whisked to a side room, where doctors explained to her that Larry had bleeding in his brain, and she would have to give permission for surgery. Marti wanted to see Larry but the doctors refused. They were preparing him for surgery.
“I — just — in my head, if I saw him, he would tell me everything’s gonna be OK,” Marti said more recently.
Surviving despite the odds
Larry was in the intensive care unit for 10 days. He underwent a craniotomy, a procedure where part of Larry’s skull was removed so blood could be drained out of his brain cavity. Larry now has a scar along the right side of his head.
Doctors said there was no specific cause for the stroke.
“They don’t know for sure, but they’re pretty sure that it was a birth defect. And it was just 62 years before it blew,” Marti said.
They warned Marti that there could be a “deficit” when Larry awoke.
The fact that Larry has survived, however, is a feat in itself. The survival rate for an incident like his is under 30% within the first three years, according to a study published by the American Heart Association.
When the stroke first happened, Larry had to relearn how to do everything including how to walk.
But almost five years after his stroke, on Tuesday, July 19, Larry and Marti hiked the Rainbow Lake Trail, a 1.5-mile trail in Frisco, together.
Even though Marti describes her and Larry as a “family of hikers,” since the stroke, Larry can only hike for a quarter mile. Therefore, Larry brings a book with him while Marti continues on with friends or family. It’s a routine they’ve gotten used to through the years to keep him safe but present.
So though they only did .8 miles of the trail, it’s a big deal. Larry persevered to the top and the two finished together.
Marti said both of them cried that day.
Hardships and adjustments
The two have come far since July of 2017.
Larry remained in and out of hospitals for months but came home the day before he and Marti’s 33rd wedding anniversary on Oct. 5, 2017.
Even though that time was joyful, both Marti and Larry admit things have not been easy.
Once Larry came home, Marti became his sole caregiver.
Larry said he misses the days that he could surprise Marti, especially on the way home from work. “I could stop at Walgreens and buy a card or something if I wanted to, or I could buy flowers. I think I lost some of that independence,” he said.
Because of the stroke, Larry has suffered memory loss, disorientation and the ability to make decisions. He can also only walk for about a mile at a time, so Marti’s main priority for the first few years of recovery was to keep track of his every move.
“He is not the same,” Marti said. “Not in every single way. He’s changed. He’s with me every day or is around me every day, and I still miss him … This is something he knows. I’ve said it to him. … I miss who and what we used to be.”
Celebration and dedication
Through all of the challenges, Marti and Larry say they have much to be grateful for.
The United Stroke Alliance offers a camp for stroke survivors that Marti and Larry attended. There, they met a plethora of people who experienced similar hardships and have derived comfort from that shared experience.
Larry no longer needs full supervision and has a three-wheeled bike he can take to the store to buy Marti a card or flowers. On Oct. 6, they will celebrate their 38th wedding anniversary, but for now, they are busy celebrating Larry’s fifth anniversary of his stroke.
Every year, Larry golfs on the day his life changed forever. It’s a way he can reconnect with his past as an avid sportsman while spending time with the people he loves.
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