McEwen To Other Stroke Survivors: Forge On

Stroke, says Mark McEwen, is "kind of a lonely malady."

Because of that, the former Early Show weatherman has become something of a crusader, hoping to serve as living proof to fellow stroke survivors that a return to a relatively normal life is possible.

McEwen has written, "Change in the Weather: Life After Stroke," the story of his continuing recovery from a near-fatal stroke he suffered two-and-a-half years ago.

A longtime Early Show veteran, McEwen had moved to Orlando, Fla. to anchor the local news and spend more time with his family when, while traveling, he experienced symptoms that led him to a hospital.

He says a doctor there misdiagnosed what was actually a minor stroke as the flu, and sent him home.

Two days later, McEwen, who was 51 at the time, had a massive stroke while flying.

Ever since, McEwen has been battling to regain normal speech and movement -- and succeeding.

And now, he's on a mission to get the word out that what you don't know about strokes can kill you but, if you survive, you can restore normalcy to your life, with lots of hard work and dedication.

McEwen returned to The Early Show for a day Tuesday and discussed his situation with his former colleague, co-anchor Harry Smith.

Asked what he wishes he know about strokes then that he knows now, McEwen replied, "Well, everything.

"Before I had a stroke, I knew nothing. Now, I know enough that could fill this room. Blood clots, blood-thinners, being healthy, now I had what they call a lifestyle change. I eat tofu!

"I've lost about 40 pounds. I drink soy milk. But my mantra now is, 'Be healthy.' And before that, it was easy for me to eat, like a pizza. I don't eat pizza (anymore)."

McEwen told Smith it's "overwhelming" to have his story in book form: "I want to give stroke survivors hope, because I thought I was alone. It's a kind of lonely malady. I want people to know if I can do it, they can do it. I want people to know it's hard to do the exercises, the rehab and all that, but it can be done."

McEwen shared the story of making love to his wife while home on a day pass from a rehab center, and said he gave a speech in Canton, Ohio after that to a group of fellow stroke survivors.

"The crowd cheered," McEwen recalled, "and see, they want to know can they do what they did before the stroke, do it after they have a stroke."

He says he kept on himself in part by repeating a line from "Shawshank Redemption": "You either get busy living, or you get busy dying."

The National Stroke Association stresses there's a window of about three hours, starting when you first notice the signs of stroke, for someone to take some "pro-active" measures.

The association advocates the "Act FAST" method -- a helpful acronym that pinpoints three very specific bodily ailments -- and gives one very important piece of advice:

F = FACE Ask the person to smile. Does one side of the face droop?
A = ARM Ask the person to raise both arms. Does one arm drift downward?
S = SPEECH Ask the person to repeat a simple phrase. Does the speech sound slurred or strange?
T = TIME If you observe any of these signs, it's time to call 911.

McEwen says there's plenty you can do to help prevent a stroke. He told CBS News, "Modifiable risk factors . . . include high blood pressure, heart disease, high cholesterol, and Type 2 diabetes, as well as lifestyle causes such as smoking, obesity and drinking to excess. Non-modifiable risk factors are age, gender, Type 1 diabetes, and a family history of stroke.

"I was lucky, because the only big risk-factor I had working against me was race: African-Americans are twice as likely to die from a stroke as Caucasians, for reasons associated with blood pressure, obesity, and heavy smoking. As for high blood pressure, I was in the news business! I thought everybody had high blood pressure!"



To visit McEwen's Web site, click here.

To read an excerpt of "Change in the Weather," click here.