Lou Nash was 56, a successful businessman, a Type A personality with an expense account and four children, when in 1993 he started having strange problems.
One night, while dining out, his arm began to violently and sporadically shake, and a friendly waitress had to clean up repeated coffee spills. Soon after, he got lost driving home from work, and had to get help getting home.
Nash, who still lives with his wife of 48 years in the Edmonds home they share, has always been a practical joker, said Jacqueline Nash. She wondered if maybe his string of strangeness was another stunt.
But as Lou and Jacqueline were leaving an exploratory doctor’s appointment one evening, and Jacqueline saw him put his jacket on backwards — with the zipper running down his back — she knew he was in trouble.
She was right.
That very night, Nash suffered a stroke, and a debilitating brain aneurism that rendered him unable to work, and despite nearly 15 years of rehabilitation still limits his speech and his mobility.
But his “sickness,” as Nash calls it, has not limited his ambition, or his empathy.
Now, at 71, he is an advocate for sufferers of traumatic brain injuries, involved with both the Brain Injury Association of Washington (BIAWA) and the American Stroke Association.
He works with the Lynnwood Police Department on a program that distributes free bicycle helmets to kids without one, and facilitates a monthly brain injury support group that meets at Stevens Hospital.
Sufferers of brain injuries face can a scary future, but support groups can lessen fear, Nash said.
“Your life is turning upside down, and people don’t know how to handle you,” he said. “You are a new person, and your friends sometimes have trouble accepting you. But in a support group, you are an equal.”
Tips on smarter living, like buckle strips for shoes, and ditching dress shirts for pullovers and sports jackets, help make the transition easier, he said.
Support groups everywhere are trying to expand their reach into the communities, especially into groups like returning war veterans, said Dr. Janet Mott, the director of support services for BIAWA.
The group’s Web site includes the slogan “You are not alone!” and is working to develop outreach efforts like blogs, Mott said.
“(Young veterans) want information, and they want places to connect that maybe are different than the places we do currently,” she said. “If they cannot come back and be the perfect wounded soldier, then they sometimes prefer anonymity.”
In any case, Nash hopes that news stories and publicity about brain injuries help reduce barriers for veterans, and other minority groups under-represented in support groups.
“You cannot change the situation. You cannot remove the stroke,” he said. “The magic word is acceptance.
Reporter Chris Fyall: 425-673-6525 or email@example.com