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Stroke survivor returns to West Michigan to complete cross-country trip this summer

Stroke survivor returns to West Michigan to complete cross-country trip this summer
Posted at 9:12 PM, Aug 13, 2021
and last updated 2021-08-13 21:50:48-04

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — After a stroke put a North Carolina man in a West Michigan hospital two years ago, he returned this summer to finish what he started.

“It’s been such a journey,” said Gray Rushin. “I mean, I arrived at a hospital in a helicopter.”

In June 2019, Rushin, an avid outdoorsman and high school chemistry teacherfrom Raleigh, North Carolina, set out on his second cross-country bike trip. He mapped out a route that would take him along the Northern Tier of the United States, cycling through states like Washington and Minnesota. The journey looped in another route that took Rushin down Michigan’s coast.

“I made it to Michigan, I made it 3,010 miles, and everything was going well,” said Rushin.

In an instant, though, it all changed. Roughly eight miles outside of Ludington, Rushin said he began to hear a clanking noise. He assumed it was his bike’s chain, but after stopping to check, he realized it wasn’t. When he got back on his bike, he pedaled before realizing the right side of his body was numb. Rushin then veered off and crashed on a rural road.

“I had no warnings; I had no health challenges that would indicate a stroke,” said Rushin.

Assuming it was heat related, Rushin took a few moments to himself. However, when a Michigan State Police trooper pulled up to ask if he was okay, Rushin says he lost the ability to talk and move the right side of his body.

Shortly after, Rushin was taken to Spectrum Health Ludington Hospital before being life flighted to Spectrum Health Butterworth Hospital. Medical professionals administered clot-busting medication before performing two emergency surgeries.

“Most of those patients don’t make it,” said Dr. Muhib Kahn, director of Spectrum Butterworth Hospital’s Comprehensive Stroke Center. “He’s one of the few patients that we come across that are able to be so active.”

According to Kahn, roughly 20 percent of patients that have a stroke caused by a torn artery, which is what Rushin suffered from, return to a normal life.

When trying to determine if someone is having a stroke, Kahn suggests people remember the acronym “BE FAST.”

  • B: Balance — Is the person suddenly having trouble with balance or coordination?
  • E: Eyes — Is the person experiencing suddenly blurred or double vision or a sudden loss of vision in one or both eyes?
  • F: Face Drooping — Does one side of the face droop or is it numb? Ask a person to smile.
  • A: Arm Weakness — Is one arm weak or numb? Ask the person to raise both arms. Does one arm drift downward?
  • S: Speech Difficulty — Is speech slurred, are they unable to speak, or are they hard to understand? Ask the person to repeat a simple sentence like “The sky is blue.” Is the sentence repeated correctly?
  • T: Time to Call 911 — If the person shows any of these symptoms, even if the symptoms go away, call 911 and get them to the hospital immediately.

Following rehabilitation and training, Rushin returned to Michigan this summer. He met with some of the people who helped him survive, like his Aero Med pilot, before he resumed the trip from the spot where it left off.

“They [his Michigan medical team] were part of the people who inspired me to keep going and not give up,” said Rushin.

In July, Rushin finished the last 1,600 miles and reached Maine, the route’s final stop.

“I don’t think anybody at that time would’ve predicted… I could go back to biking 100 miles a day,” said Rushin. “I would’ve had to agree with them, but I’m a pretty stubborn guy and I never gave up.”

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