By Ted W. Baxter
As told to Jennifer Clopton
In 2005 I was at the top of my game. After 22 years in the financial industry, I was a globetrotting businessman who had spent 6 years working and living in Tokyo and Hong Kong, and I had just taken an exciting new job in Chicago. I was in peak physical condition. Married. I was living the dream.
Then one day in April, at the age of 41, with no warning signs, I suffered a massive stroke. For a while, my family and doctors didn’t think I would survive.
I did. But my life would never be the same.
Before my stroke, as a managing director and a global financial controller for a premier investment hedge fund, I was an expert in complex economic concepts, loved numbers and strategy and performed fast-paced financial work in my head without even thinking about it.
But my stroke, and the three seizures that followed, took everything from me – down to my ability to walk and talk. It left me with memory loss, I couldn’t use my right arm and leg, and I was diagnosed with a communication impairment called aphasia. The disorder doesn’t affect your intelligence, but does impair your ability to process language, read, write and talk.
The road to recovery was long and hard – and sometimes felt impossible, but I refused to give up. It’s just not in my nature. So instead of succumbing to fear and frustration, I decided to tackle my challenges head on. I underwent years of physical and speech therapy and tireless exercises to regain my strength, re-learn how to speak and express myself and even walk.
I still have aphasia, but it’s much less now than when I had my stroke thanks to continuing practicing and talking. Other than that, my body has returned to pre-stroke normalcy. But by the time it did, I realized my old life didn’t fit me anymore.
This realization forced me to tap into another level of bravery and leave behind what I thought was my dream – and start over.
My wife and I had been headed for divorce before my stroke so we followed through on that once I was better. I also said goodbye to my career in finance, which meant that I no longer needed to be in Chicago. So for a clean slate and fresh perspective, I moved to California.
Soon, a new and unexpected career began to emerge for me. Art therapy uncovered my love of art, something I never before slowed down to notice. Now I’m an art collector and have served on the board of an art museum for three years. My stroke experience inspired me to start volunteering in hospitals, work for non-profits and form a stroke survivor group. I also wrote a memoir about my journey and speak about it regularly too.
I got re-married in 2017. I built a new circle of friends. I’m doing things I never knew I could do. I’m making a difference now – dealing with people, not numbers. And most of all, I am having fun. I used to be so serious. But believe it or not, I found my sense of humor during my medical crisis. I found my zest for life.
And here is the surprising truth – my life today is so much better than it ever was before I had the stroke. My obstacles led me to a more balanced, meaningful, active, caring life. And I’m just getting started. This part of my story – the best part of it – is just beginning.
I wrote my book because I want stroke survivors, caregivers and their loved ones to know that there is hope – wherever your medical crisis may take you. Recovery isn’t easy, but you can and will battle back. And while I wouldn’t suggest you have a stroke to find your life’s purpose, I want everyone to know that when life throws you some sort of surprise, it will be okay. No matter how big and overwhelming your challenges feel and even if they upend your life and leave you wondering where you are headed next…you will figure it out.
Clean slates and fresh starts are nothing to fear. Don’t worry about starting over, trying something new or creating a different blueprint for your life either. If something happens that you can’t control, simply focus on what is in your power to change.
And most of all – don’t shrink back from your obstacles. Look past them and push through. My life is proof that greater happiness can be waiting for you on the other side.
Ted W. Baxter now resides in Newport Beach, CA, where he volunteers at several health-related institutions and hospitals in Orange County. Ted leads groups in a stroke-related communication recovery program and is a member of the Board of Directors at the American Heart and Stroke Association. He is the author of Relentless: How A Massive Stroke Changed My Life for the Better. For additional information, visit www.tedwbaxter.com