About Michael Erwin, Stroke Survivor and Founder of BELIEVE – Stroke Recovery Foundation
On Sunday morning, September 10, 2017, Michael Erwin woke up early and drew the short straw – he would have to get out of bed first and take a shower while his wife got a little extra sleep. When he tried to get up, he lost his balance, then his right side went numb and he began slurring his words when trying to ask his wife, Jennifer, for help. Fortunately, Jennifer recognized immediately what was happening. He was having a stroke. She called 911 and whispered to him to stay calm, that the ambulance was on its way. Thankfully for Michael, the hospital was only three miles away and the Emergency Medical Services (EMS) arrived in just minutes. As he says, “The EMS was great – they saved my life!”
Michael had suffered a hemorrhagic stroke or a “bleed” in layman’s terms. Only 13% of strokes are bleeds and they account for 40% of all stroke deaths. Those who survive don’t have a good chance of returning to their normal lives again. Michael had been on blood pressure (BP) medication for the last 22 years, which had kept him at a borderline state. Now, his blood pressure had spiked and was still high.
Michael spent 36 days in the hospital, first in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU), then in a lower level ICU, then he was transferred to another hospital for in-patient rehabilitation six days a week. By day three of his journey, his family was told he was “out of the woods” – though they all knew that the road to recovery would be long and challenging.
When he began rehabilitation, Michael’s right arm and leg were like noodles, his speech was weak and his BP was still occasionally spiking. He was sensitive to light and noise. He focused on rehabilitation six times a week, three hours a day. Towards the end of his hospital stay, he was treated by a BP specialist, Dr. Theodore Shaikewitz, who happened to be on call that day. Dr. Shaikewitz changed his BP medication and Michael was able to maintain perfect levels. The staff at Duke Regional Hospital, who had supported Michael and pushed him to get stronger each day, started the process of releasing him.
Since Michael could not yet tackle stairs, he and his wife moved in with his in-laws, who had a ranch-style house with no stairs, for the next seven months. He began in-home rehabilitation for eight weeks, focusing on physical therapy (PT), occupational therapy (OT) and speech language pathology (SLP). Improvements were becoming more visible. He still remembers waking up on a Saturday morning and realizing for the first time that he knew all of his antonyms and synonyms from his speech therapy homework. He was walking with a hemi-walker and gaining some range of motion in his arm. Huge progress!
With such impressive progress, Michael was cleared for outpatient rehabilitation. After having a bad experience with the first facility, his wife found Steps for Recovery, a local rehabilitation facility. They soon ran into a common issue – they ran out of insurance coverage for rehabilitation. In fact, most stroke survivors have standard insurance policies that typically only cover two months of rehabilitation. After that, patients have to find a way to cover their own rehabilitation costs or stop doing rehab, losing valuable recovery time. Many people, including Michael, need many more months of rehabilitation to regain functional independence. That is the reason this Foundation exists. BELIEVE – Stroke Recovery Foundation’s goal is to provide financial support so that stroke and brain injury survivors can continue the rehabilitation they need without worrying about the lack of insurance coverage or having to pay out of pocket costs.
Michael has been going to Steps for Recovery since April 2018, and walking without a cane since January 2019. By June 2018, he was strong enough to move back to Raleigh into his own home with his wife. One year later, his arm range of motion is complete but functionality remains a work in progress. He is beyond grateful to the owners and therapists at Steps for Recovery for the kind and compassionate care they have provided.
With this new-found strength, Michael began to wonder what he would do with the rest of his life. He prayed and prayed. One day he woke up with a divine vision of starting a nonprofit for stroke survivors and began working diligently to make this vision a reality. Like many stroke survivors, Michael knows his world may never be the same. He realizes, “This is the ‘new me’.” But he now knows a gratification and appreciation beyond belief. “Never give up! I smile and Believe and I hope you will do the same,” he exclaims.
BELIEVE – Stroke Recovery Foundation is a nonprofit organization dedicated to supporting stroke and brain injury survivors who need help paying for out-patient rehabilitation when their insurance benefits have ceased for the calendar year. Everyone who is a part of BELIEVE – Stroke Recovery Foundation believes in you – and we hope this Foundation will help get you back on the road to recovery. Just Believe!
Michael is fortunate to have so many people lifting him up throughout his journey, including the one and only Drew Pearson of the Dallas Cowboys. Click here to watch Drew’s video message to Michael.