Peggy and Emerson’s Story: Embracing a Full Life After Stroke

Emerson and Peggy Knowles have learned to live in balance with the after-effects of stroke. Her cane is at left, a Hawaiian waterfall at right.

In keeping with his motto – “Never underestimate the impact of a small act of kindness” – Emerson Knowles will share his family’s story this Saturday, May 14, at the Stroke Survivor and Caregiver Day symposium at Drake Center. The story centers around the lessons learned after Emerson’s wife, Peggy, suffered a stroke at age 45, only hours after the death, from stroke, of her mother. Though she remains paralyzed on her left side and nearly blind, Peggy and her ever-supportive husband continue to live fully. “The mechanics of our life did change,” Emerson says, “but our life didn’t change.”

On Saturday, Emerson plans to deliver a 30-minute, high-energy pep talk to stroke survivors and their caregivers. In part, he will give them permission “to let go of the old so that you can have a new.”

“There are 100 versions of this outcome, maybe a thousand,” Emerson acknowledges. “This is our version.”

Eight years ago Emerson came home to find his wife stricken. In his forthcoming book, Seeking Normal, he describes the classic signs of stroke that he saw. “Her face was two images; the right looked at me, the left drooped as if to melt away. Her speech was frighteningly slurred.”

Although Emerson did not realize that Peggy was suffering a major stroke, he did the right thing: he called 9-1-1. Peggy was rushed to the hospital. Sadly, too much time had elapsed from the time of her stroke’s onset until her diagnosis of ischemic stroke (one caused by a blood clot) for her to benefit from the clot-busting drug, t-PA. The drug must be administered within 3 to 4½ hours of the onset of stroke, and the clock was ticking when Peggy was at home alone, unable to summon help for herself.

After the initial shock, Emerson came to grips with a new mission: to bring Peggy back. Supported by family and friends and new ways of thinking – ask for help, trust those around you, stuff your pride in a sack and reach out to those you love – he and Peggy moved forward into a their new future.

Peggy was permanently impacted by the stroke. In medical parlance, she had permanent deficits. In addition to her physical difficulties, she has trouble remembering things. In a cruel twist of fate, Emerson, her primary caregiver, was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2004. Nevertheless, they have persevered, living an enriching, busy life. Native Cincinnatians, they now live predominantly in Arizona, which offers an inviting climate that is free of icy hazards and is conducive to Peggy’s daily walk.

“Travel is still a pain, routines are a nuisance and everything we do just takes a whole lot longer, but it does not matter,” Emerson wrote in a 2007 paper he presented at the Literary Club of Cincinnati. “We have the gift of seeing the true decency of man that is so shrouded by the mind-numbing pace of modern life. We live each day with full hearts and clear minds draw from the strength, caring and prayers of so many.”

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Emerson, in addition to his career as a financial advisor, has raised money by the thousands for research in stroke and prostate cancer. He attempted a 55K on May 7th in an effort to complete his goal of raising $55,000 in celebration of his 55th birthday, and he is recognized as the No. 1 fundraiser for Athletes for a Cure.

— Cindy Starr

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