This Father’s Day, Former Shepherd Center Stroke Patient Will Celebrate Life
Roger Brathwaite of Atlanta will walk with his sons, an activity that will mark a milestone in his recovery.
Roger Brathwaite refers to it as the day that changed everything.
It started out normal enough.
The 45-year-old Atlanta, Ga., resident rose early, drove a relative to the airport and returned home to participate in a conference call for work. When the phone call was over, Roger, who felt like he had a slight cold, went back to bed. That’s the last memory he has of Dec. 29, 2014.
“My boys heard me hit the ground. I didn’t know I hit the ground. And they called the paramedics,” Roger recalls.
Roger’s four sons were staying with him that day. They typically stay with their mother, Roger’s former wife, but the teen-aged boys had been visiting for the Christmas holidays. Their presence likely saved his life.
It was 16-year-old Cyon Brathwaite and 18-year-old Carrington Brathwaite who first found Roger, lying face down, sweating and unconscious.
“I had gone downstairs to get him water, and I heard a big thud, so I ran back upstairs and he was on the floor,” recalls Cyon, describing the frightening morning that forever changed his family’s life. “At first, I thought he just fell. But he was actually going through the process of a stroke. So we woke up my older brother Chandler. He came upstairs trying to talk to my dad to see what was wrong. And then he told me to go in the other room and pray.”
Cyon went into his little brother Chase’s bedroom, trying to calm his young sibling while also quietly praying, scared and wondering whether his father would survive.
Roger was rushed to Piedmont Hospital and lapsed into a coma. He had experienced a hemorrhagic stroke that affected the left side of his brain, leaving the right side of his body paralyzed. His sons, meanwhile, worked to remain optimistic that their father, a man they knew to be a hard worker and a fighter, would pull through.
After three weeks, Roger awoke and learned the details of his new reality. It is a day he will not soon forget.
“I was emotional to say the least,” he recalls. “It’s hard to explain the layers of emotions. It’s mind-numbing because the whole right side of your body doesn’t work anymore, and this is something you’ve been used to having for 44 years. I didn’t know how long it would last. I didn’t have any answers. Doctors couldn’t tell me when I was going to come out of it, or if I was going to come out of it. I cried for most of the day. Being in a wheelchair and having people bathe you, that reminds you: This is real.”
Once he was stabilized, Roger was admitted to Shepherd Center, where he participated in inpatient physical, occupational, speech and recreation therapy followed by additional day program therapy at Shepherd Pathways.
After three and a half months, Roger reached a milestone in his recovery. On that day, Roger put away his wheelchair for good.
“Roger is phenomenal,” says Payal Fadia, M.D., his physician at Shepherd Pathways. “He was extremely hard-working and determined in therapy. He continually strives to reach milestones in his recovery.”
Just this week, six months after his collapse, Roger reached another important marker in his journey: He completed rehabilitation altogether. While Roger still considers himself a work in progress, with his goals for the future including continuing to strengthen his right side and improve his verbal skills, his focus has now happily shifted to improving the smaller, finer details.
“I’m fully operational,” he says. “I can walk, I can talk. I can write my name now, but I can’t write it beautifully like I used to.”
The precariousness of his existence during the past six months has made this Father’s Day particularly meaningful for Roger and his family. He is here, alive and well, able to celebrate the day with his sons – something more valuable than the high-powered career and pursuit of the corner office at a Fortune 500 company that had been a dominant focus of Roger’s life until his stroke.
Roger and his sons will mark Father’s Day not by going out to eat or for a boat ride – activities they have typically participated in together over the years. Instead, this year, they will walk together at The Atlanta Beltline in a subdued, but particularly meaningful, celebration of Roger’s long journey back.
“My goal is not necessarily to walk the entire three-mile walk, but just to have a good time with them, laughing and joking and just being together enjoying the day,” Roger says.
His sons are equally cognizant of the poignancy of this year’s celebration, well aware they almost lost their dad. They are also proud of all the progress he has made, calling him a diligent, but humble fighter.
“We could have not had a father this year,” says 20-year-old Chandler Brathwaite.
“The fact that we still do, and that he recovered from something that many people don’t recover from, is a blessing. So, this Father’s Day will be more special than all the others.”
Cyon adds: “It’s a miracle. It’s kinda crazy that on the day he had his stroke, we were there. I think we all played a part in saving his life.”
For more information on Shepherd Center’s stroke rehabilitation programs, visit shepherd.org/stroke.
Written by Mia Taylor
Photos Courtesy of Roger Brathwaite
Shepherd Center, located in Atlanta, Georgia, is a private, not-for-profit hospital specializing in medical treatment, research and rehabilitation for people with spinal cord injury, brain injury, multiple sclerosis, spine and chronic pain, and other neuromuscular conditions. Founded in 1975, Shepherd Center is ranked by U.S. News & World Report among the top 10 rehabilitation hospitals in the nation. In its more than four decades, Shepherd Center has grown from a six-bed rehabilitation unit to a world-renowned, 152-bed hospital that treats more than 900 inpatients, 575 day program patients and more than 7,100 outpatients each year.