My name is Bill Hrncir and I am a stroke survivor. On December 9th, 2017, I celebrated my 11th stroke anniversary or “strokiversary”.
I was an athlete, a super dad, a loving husband, but overnight I became the poster child for stroke. I was running when I had a knock me down, take my voice away, throw me into a wheelchair stroke. After 11 years, I can finally say that I understand why I was chosen to survive such a trauma. It wasn’t all fun and games, though…
My journey “remodeling” my brain began with a 4-month stay in Austin at the Texas NeuroRehab Center and then continued at Laredo Medical Center Outpatient for 1½ years. Then for the following 5 years, I commuted back and forth from Austin (a 235-mile trip, going up on Wednesday morning and back on Friday night).
My rehab regimen over those 5 years consisted of:
-speech class with Austin Speech Labs
-occupational and physical therapy with St. David’s Hospital Outpatient and Texas NeuroRehab
-track workouts with a personal trainer
-visits to the chiropractor
Expectations didn’t always equal reality when it came to recovery- and I’m still a work-in-progress. As active as I was, I honestly thought I would be out and about in no time. My right arm and leg are coming along at a snail’s pace; nonetheless, I am improving. My brain still holds my words hostage from time to time. My improvements become progressively smaller nowadays, but I won’t give up!
My mom always used to tell us, “The best way to feel better is to help others feel better.” I have learned first hand that it is so true. Five years ago my wife, Deedee, and I co-founded the Laredo Stroke Support Group. In the beginning, there were five survivors, caretakers, and medical professionals. We have come a long way since back then. Now, we host our monthly meetings on the second Monday of the month with 40 to 50 people in attendance, and we also offer the following services & resources for local survivors and their families:
-Speech Therapy with Austin Speech Labs via Skype daily
-Art Therapy Class once a week
-Bike and Trike Rides every Saturday
-Adaptive Tennis Class
-Adaptive Exercise Class
-Chair Yoga Class
Guarantees? There are none. Every stroke survivor recovers at a different pace and it can be either inspiring or frustrating to see those around you improve at a different pace. My good friend and stroke survivor, Johnny, owns a BBQ Restaurant. From the day I first met him until now, he has made leaps and bounds in his recovery. I have been in the recovery process much longer, but my progress is taking longer.
Not only does the recovery time vary from survivor to survivor, but so do the impairments. The Book Communication Sciences and Disorders confirms that “the degree, the severity, and the deficits that follow are different from one stroke survivor to another.” I personally have hemiparesis (or partial paralysis), spasticity (stiffness), depression (though I jog and bike to combat it), and aphasia (wordlessness).
One of the most pivotal parts of my speech rehabilitation was about four years ago, when co-founder of Austin Speech Labs, Shilpa Shamapant called me and encouraged me to face my fear. She said, “Bill, you have to speak in public!” Despite barely being able to correctly write and spell a word, I did just that! I spoke in front of civic organizations, college groups, and elementary schools. Over the past four years, I have given 59 speeches. At the beginning, I would rehearse them for weeks- frustrating and annoying my wife and children- as they listened over and over again to the same mistakes. We all wondered how things would progress. Much to our surprise, the words would always come together- though some speeches were tougher to complete than others. I would have to rest and meditate beforehand, and things got easier with time. I’m blessed to see the impact of my speeches come to fruition as our network of support for survivors grows in the local community.
A fellow survivor and head of STROKEFOCUS, Daniel Jing Gu, recently told me, “for the price that survivors and our families have paid, the only acceptable goal is to eradicate stroke altogether!” I couldn’t agree more. Stroke rarely affects just one person- but impacts the entire family. I was fortunate to have a strong support system, and every day I hope to be that for the other survivors I meet. Studies like Stanford University’s experimental stem cell treatment are paving the way. Before, it was thought that brain cells could not regenerate; now thankfully, they are finding otherwise. That’s great news for myself and other survivors who want to do more than just exist- we want to thrive and be active members of society again.
I am fortunate to have built several businesses pre-stroke and that keeps my brain active daily. The decisions that I make for employees, equipment, and finances, give me the drive to continue to set business goals.
Pre-stroke, I was a competitive runner and cyclist. I set physical goals like improving my running times or getting up those steep hills on my bike, which makes my physical workouts worthwhile. Both of these things combined have helped me to create what Elizabeth Apple, fellow survivor, calls “my new normal”. I can continue to provide for my family and I. My life has meaning and my journey continues…