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Giving Back Instead of Giving Up:
One Man’s Inspirational Stroke Recovery

Marianjoy therapists walk the race with Hieu to show their support.Three days into his progressive stroke, Hieu Nguyen found himself lying in his hospital bed, unable to move. At that moment, he could never have imagined himself participating in and completing a 5k race. On September 19, 2015, surrounded by several of his Marianjoy therapists and friends, that’s exactly what he did.

As President of the St. Charles Rotary Club, Hieu, (pronounced “Hugh”), is no stranger to community involvement. Following his stroke, though, the concept of “giving back” took on a whole new level of meaning. Determined to raise awareness and show encouragement for other stroke survivors, Hieu pushed himself to participate in a 5k run/walk sponsored by a local charity. It was a goal he set with his therapists at Marianjoy, and it helped to push him during his recovery.

April 15, 2015—Tax Day—can be a tough day for many people. For Hieu, a controller/accounting analyst, it turned out to be one of the most stressful days of his year, but not for the reasons he might have anticipated. He felt his muscles getting heavy, but his speech was unaffected. He could tell something was wrong. After a few hours, he went to the hospital, where an MRI identified Hieu’s condition as a progressive stroke. Though he walked into the hospital, three days later, he couldn’t move at all. “I hit rock bottom; I was very depressed,” he says. “I didn’t know if I could get better. But when I found out I was going to Marianjoy, I thought, 'At least I’ll have help.’”

Hieu wasn’t disappointed: “People say Marianjoy is one of the best facilities for rehabilitation—and I really believe it. Marianjoy sets the bar very high for patient care. Even now as a visitor, they treat me like I’m family.” As soon as he arrived, Hieu’s attitude toward his condition changed. “I realized the stroke couldn’t be undone—all I could do was focus on the life ahead of me. People at Marianjoy love what they do; it flows into the care they give their patients. They gave me their all, so I forced myself to work as hard as I could.”

Now, only five months later, Hieu has returned to much of his everyday life. “I appreciate things more now. It’s a blessing I was able to re-learn them. You take things for granted, like walking,” he says. Not only did he just walk a 5k, but he has also transitioned back to work full-time and volunteering through community service. He is working towards rejoining his bowling league and cooking. “One of my biggest fears was not being able to cook again,” he says. “It’s a passion of mine. I am so glad Marianjoy had a high-tech model kitchen where I was able to practice cooking.”

Hieu still can’t believe how far he’s come. “It’s humbling that some people look at me as a hero, but I don’t see myself that way. I just do what I think is necessary. I want to show other people that they can, too. I know it’s hard, but try to stay positive. Instead of wallowing in the change, grasp it to see what you can do to make it better. One foot in front of the other, one day at a time.”