By AMERICAN HEART ASSOCIATION NEWS
David Miller had made a quick trip to Cambodia in May 2010 for a board meeting at a local orphanage. But he never showed up for the 9 a.m. meeting.
The senior executive worked for various technology firms and was never late, something his worried colleagues knew well.
After convincing the hotel to force open the door to his room two hours later, they found Miller unconscious on the bed, fully dressed with his suitcases packed for his flight home to Singapore later that day.
Tests showed Miller had experienced a massive hemorrhagic stroke, caused by bleeding from smaller blood vessels in his brain. He’d need to be transported to Singapore, a two-hour flight away, where specialists could treat him.
Doctors offered little optimism that the father of four would survive the flight, which had been delayed a day due to airport closures, let alone the surgery he needed to drain the blood that had collected in his brain. Even then, they cautioned his family that he may never walk again.
But Miller survived surgery. After a week-long medically induced coma, he awoke unable to speak and sit up on his own.
He underwent intensive physical, occupational and speech therapy twice a day during his six weeks in the hospital, followed by outpatient therapy sessions for several more months.
With a long recovery ahead, the family moved back to the U.S. to live with Miller’s in-laws in California, where he underwent a seven-week rehabilitation program and continued with outpatient therapies for another 18 months before relocating to Texas.
His wife, Christy, returned to full-time work and Miller took on the role of stay-at-home dad.
Doctors aren’t sure what caused Miller’s stroke, the No. 5 cause of death in the U.S. and a leading cause of long-term disability. Doctors told Miller he may have had undiagnosed high blood pressure, exacerbated by a stressful work schedule and high doses of caffeine.
Before his stroke, Miller kept a demanding travel schedule, taking a red-eye flight most Sundays so he could arrive first thing the Monday morning to begin a busy day. When he wasn’t traveling, he’d be on conference calls with colleagues across the globe until 2 a.m.
“You get burned out quick doing that, and get into some bad habits,” Miller said, adding that he fueled himself with coffee and energy drinks, often skipping lunch to maintain his schedule.
Miller, now 51, has come a long way from the days following his stroke. He was able to give up his wheelchair last spring and soon resumed driving.
Electronic sensors in his shoe that send signals to a device worn around his calf have helped him walk without a significant limp. Miller, a lifelong athlete, is hopeful the technology will help him return to running.
“I want to run a 10K one day,” he said. “But for now the best I can do is a fast walk.”
Grappling with a long, sometimes uneven recovery has proved difficult for the high-achieving executive.
“I have pretty high expectations about the way I want to end up,” he admitted. “You don’t go from a senior executive overseeing thousands of people to nothing overnight. I’ve gone through some very emotionally depressing times.”
In May, Miller achieved a major milestone: returning to work. He’s now a vice president overseeing corporate sales for internet services firm EarthLink.
Miller hopes his story inspires others to stay positive as they recover and never give up.
“You have to make that decision every day, and it’s not easy,” he said. “I wanted to choose to get better and go back to making a difference every day.”
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Photos courtesy of David Miller