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Most people believe that only elderly people get strokes, and certainly not fit people who work out regularly. Most people are wrong.

Just ask Mario Garden of San Diego. No one was more surprised than Mario when he suffered a stroke at age 44.

"I was walking to my car after work when I felt this chill run down my entire right side,” the recreation program manager said. "I tried to shake it off. But when I tried to put my right hand in my pocket for my car keys, I couldn’t.”

Garden used his left hand to retrieve the keys and sat in his car several minutes, trying to make sense of what was happening.

"I was due to officiate a soccer game that evening and had planned to stop at his girlfriend’s home on the way to change and eat. Through rush hour traffic, Garden navigated his stick-shift car across town using only his left hand. His right hand was not responding.

His girlfriend knew something was wrong, and rushed him to the closest hospital.

Garden was diagnosed with a stroke and admitted to the ICU. By then, he had no feeling in his right hand and could barely lift his right arm; the right side of his face was drooping. But fortunately, he was still able to walk and talk. He spent a week in the hospital while they tried to bring his high blood pressure down. Once that was accomplished, he was transferred to Alvarado's San Diego Rehabilitation Institute (SDRI).

"Mario was extremely motivated to regain full functional capabilities,” said Laura Nelson, the occupational therapist who worked with Mario at SDRI at thte time.. "He worked very hard to regain control of his arm and hand.”


During his stay, Garden had physical, speech and occupational therapy several times a day.

"My therapists were great – very patient, but always pushing me to try more,” he said. "They said I was making good progress and there was no reason to keep me there any longer.”

After a week at SDRI, Garden was discharged and started physical and occupational therapy on an outpatient basis, three times a week. Two months after his stroke, Garden was back at work part-time. Several months after his discharge, he returned to outpatient occupational therapy for what might be considered a "tune up.” Nelson reassessed his right arm and hand function and worked on fine tuning his movement.

Garden was set up with a customized home program which he continues to follow today as a part of his ongoing recovery. His condition improved to the point where he could continue to rehabilitate on his own using the techniques his therapists had taught him and by the third month was back to his jobon a full-time basis. He works for the Naval Surface Pacific Command on Coronado and is a Department ofDefense Civilianwho oversees fitness and recreation on surface ships all over the world.

"I was very surprised that this happened to me,” Garden remarked about his stroke. "I was always very active in sports, worked out several times a week. I didn’t smoke or drink, and I wasn’t overweight.”

But Garden had high blood pressure, a condition that runs in his family. He knows now that his high blood pressure is what eventually led to his stroke.

"My goal was to recover to the point where I could officiate competitivesoccer games again,” he said.

He returned to the field less than one year after his stroke. "At first it was a little awkward running and trying to hold the whistle,” he said. But I learned from the therapists is not to get discouraged and to keep on trying. At this point, I feel I can get out there and referee a good game of soccer just like I didbefore the stroke.

Garden now shares his experiences with other patients as part of the stroke peer visitor program, as well as at local events, including at the 2008 Rock 'n' Roll Marathon in San Diego.