Armed with a sharp mind and a keen gift for gab, Sean Maloney rose from a free-spirited youth in London to a leading man in Silicon Valley. At 54, he was widely considered the CEO-in-waiting of technology titan Intel.
Perhaps it’s no surprise that such a striver pushed his body, too. Running, skiing, rowing – he loved it all, especially pushing and pulling his boat across the San Francisco Bay nearly every morning.
Then he suffered a stroke. More specifically, a clot that had been silently growing in his left carotid artery became big enough to stop blood from flowing into the left side of his brain. Doctors saved his life, but only after severe damage had been done.
The part of the brain that controlled his speech was ruined. His gift for gab wasn’t just compromised, it became useless. His physical prowess was jeopardized, too, as his right arm and leg hung limp.
Run a company? Run around the block? As of Feb. 22, 2010, none of it seemed possible.
Except to Sean, who will soon be putting an exclamation point on his comeback by riding a bicycle from San Francisco to New York.
Just a few weeks into his recovery, Sean already was testing his boundaries.
He spent so much time in the halls of his rehab facility that a doctor actually helped Sean back to his room and told him to give it a rest.
Sean looked at the doctor and laughed. He laughed and laughed, then laughed some more. Not long ago, Sean would’ve had plenty to say to anyone trying to slow him, but now he was trapped, unable to grunt much more than “yes” and “no.” Yet instead of crying over his plight, Sean found it so darn funny.
It was as if life was playing a practical joke on him, and he knew he’d get even. Confidence and a positive attitude were his secret weapons.
“Tomorrow is going to be better than today,” he told himself. “Next month is going to be better than last month. The next six months will be better than the last six months.”
The day Sean left the hospital, a doctor told his wife, Margaret, that rowing would be a thing of the past. Sean defied that prediction before he even reached home.
He had Margaret drive to the rowing club and help him retrieve his scull. Somehow, he managed to get it into the water, then climbed aboard. Pushing and pulling with only his left arm, the boat moved in circles. What mattered most was the simple fact he got it moving.
“I couldn’t use my right arm,” he said, “but I was determined to row again.”
Determined is a word that weaves throughout Sean’s tale.
He taught himself to talk again by using the other side of his brain. Words don’t tumble out as quickly, but his British accent and sharp wit still come through loud and clear. His physical recovery has been even more amazing, regaining full use of his right side.
Within a year, Sean was back at work as executive vice president of Intel.
Months later, he took on the job of running Intel in China, a $7 billion enterprise. It grew to $8 billion in annual revenue by the time he retired in January 2013.
Sean’s determination is targeted in a new way – fighting stroke. And he’s coming at it from all angles.
As a stroke survivor, he enjoys connecting with others who are trying to rebuild their lives. One tool he offers is a powerful video called “Anatomy of a Comeback: The Sean Maloney Story.”
With his corporate experience, he’s a perfect fit as the chairman of the board of directors in the Silicon Valley for the American Heart Association and American Stroke Association. The AHA is the nation’s oldest and largest voluntary organization devoted to fighting cardiovascular diseases and stroke.
Last October, on World Stroke Day, Sean announced his ambitious way of raising awareness and funds: a 5,000-mile bicycle ride from his home base of San Francisco to New York. It’s called “Heart Across America,” and the path takes somewhat of a U-shape, with stops in San Diego, Dallas, Nashville, Chicago and Pittsburgh.
The ride begins March 22 and is scheduled to cross the finish line on June 13. He will pedal about 70 miles per day, joined by local bicycle clubs and hopefully many more riders. He’s encouraging anyone to join them for an hour, a day or a week. Health fairs and other events will be timed with his visits.
“We have to raise consciousness about heart attack and strokes,” he said.
Among the messages he’s hoping to spread is a passion for healthy living because what’s good for the heart is also good for the brain. He wants everyone to know that 80 percent of all strokes are preventable, and he’s eager to teach the importance of recognizing a stroke F.A.S.T. – if you detect (F)ace drooping, (A)rm weakness or (S)peech difficulty, it’s (T)ime to call 9-1-1. The sooner care is given, the better the chances for recovery; time lost is brain lost.
Sean got into cycling specifically for Heart Across America. He knew he wanted to do something big, and rowing across the country wasn’t exactly an option.
“I’m 58 years of age, and I’d like to think I’ve got another 20 or 25 years to go,” he said. “If you give up, you’re doomed. As a stroke survivor, if I give up, I’m doomed. I’ve got to pick myself up off the ground and go for it.”
Going for it doesn’t necessarily mean riding 5,000 miles … unless you’re Sean Maloney.
“Coming back from my stroke was the hardest thing I’ve ever done,” he said. “And I fully expect this ride to be the second-hardest.
“But if it can save just one family from going through the trauma of stroke or heart attacks, it will be worth every mile.”
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Photos courtesy of Sean Maloney
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