CLIFTON PARK, N.Y. — Town resident Braden Russom is a stroke survivor and as the American Heart Association New York State’s Stroke Ambassador for the upcoming 2021 Capital Region Heart Walk and Run he is using his personal story and his voice to promote the June 6 fundraiser and the research benefits that result from it.
The definition of a stroke is loss of blood flow to part of the brain. It happens when a blood clot blocks an artery in the brain or when a bleed from a blood vessel in the head creates pressure in the brain. In either case, brain cells die and the brain is damaged temporarily or permanently.
Russom grew up in Mechanicville and describes himself as a pretty normal kid who played soccer and lacrosse with no ill effects from his health. It was only much later that he found out from doctors that he had had a hole in his heart from birth.
He was just 19 years old and a freshman at college when he had the first of four strokes.
In 1999 away at school and busy with studies and college life he didn’t realize the symptoms that had moved him to walk over to the local hospital’s emergency room were signs of a stroke. After waiting to be seen by medical staff for seven hours and feeling much better, he left the emergency room and walked back to his dorm.
“My vision got narrow; I had no peripheral vision and I had a headache but I’m not a doctor and I didn’t know the signs of a stroke,” he said. “As I sat in the ER waiting room I could see the clock, knew it was a clock, knew what it did, but I couldn’t tell the time. I thought I had a migraine.”
He had his second stroke in 2012 while at work when his speech began to slur and his vision narrowed once again. This time he boss drove him to the hospital emergency room where he once again had to wait.
While waiting this time he could see a number of instructional signs, knew they contained letters, but couldn’t understand them. Once more, after feeling better, he left without being seen by medical staff.
“My feeling was if they don’t think I’m having a stroke I’m probably not having one and it’s probably that migraine again,” Russom said. “I know now, and I recommend to anyone in the same situation, let people know at the admitting desk that you think you’re having a stroke, that that’s why you came in.”
Between the first stroke and the second, Russom had a friend who had had a stroke at age 29. That knowledge made him begin to think more carefully about his medical history.
He had his third stroke in 2015 at home while preparing to take his pregnant wife to Albany Med. This time he was taken to Ellis Medicine Medical Center of Clifton Park with the same symptoms. Once there he was admitted, given an MRI which found the hole in his heart. He was transferred to Ellis Hospital in Schenectady.
Eventually doctors gave him two options, start taking blood thinners or undergo surgery. Russom chose the blood thinners.
By the time he had his fourth stroke at age 39 he was fully aware of his condition. While working from his home last summer he felt the onset of the familiar symptoms and announced to his wife that he thought he might be having another stroke.
“I was in a group chat with my boss and couldn’t understand what I was typing or what her messages were saying,” he said.
New medical research recommends surgery which he had in December. Russom now expects to be stroke-free in the future.
“My thought after surgery was that I was coming home. Looking at my kids I thought, I’m going to be here; that a stroke won’t take me away from them,” he said.
His personal history and his youthful nonchalant attitude toward what can be a deadly condition moved the Heart Association to take notice and make him their Stroke Ambassador for the upcoming virtual fundraising walk and run.
He made a recent presentation in a virtual rally for the association’s Heart Walk and Run.
Asked what health advice he passes along these days as a spokesman for health organizations such as the Heart Association or simply as an individual, Russom said he makes two points each time.
“Understand the National Stroke Association acronym, F.A.S.T. which stands for facial drooping, arm weakness, slurred speech and time to call 911,” he said. “If you experience any of those symptoms call 911. The other is, make sure to be seen by medical staff. Demand to be seen and use the word stroke when you do.
"There are stroke protocols that they follow. Plant that idea in their heads. It could save your life.”