Forsyth County resident Kevin Schmuckal had a long 2017, which was capped by completing a marathon from Minneapolis to St. Paul in Minnesota in October — after suffering a stroke in January.
Schmuckal said he does not have a family history of strokes and had no issues before the incident.
“I was seemingly in the best shape of my life. I’m a runner. I work out,” Schmuckal said. “Jan. 26, 2017, I was at [the gym] with my wife, we were working at a treadmill at the time. I was running and doing my workout, and my wife, Debbie, saw me from the side and knew something wasn’t right with me. She saw that my face was really puffy and that it drooped.”
Employees at the gym called 911, and paramedics took him to Northside Hospital Forsyth. He was later airlifted to Grady Memorial Hospital, where he underwent a thrombectomy, which involved a stent being led through his leg to reach the blockage in his brain.
“It was certainly a total team effort,” Schmuckal said. “Thankfully, I’m sitting here today because everybody did their job.”
Schmuckal said recovery was quick on the physical side of things but took longer for some neurological issues.
Debbie Schmuckal said the stroke made the family more appreciative of some things and less concerned with other challenges. It also was a wake-up call for others.
“It was especially an eye-opener to a lot of our friends because the general thought was if it can happen to Kevin, who was in this shape and the health the way that it is, it can happen to all of us,” she said. “I have heard of those who have gone to get screenings and paid attention to doctor’s appointments more because we’ve got that in the back of our minds.”
By that summer, a friend who works with Medtronic let Schmuckal know about the company’s Twin Cities Marathon. He was selected as one of 20 racers out of about 250 applicants.
“They’re looking for people that have overcome some sort of medical condition or have gone on to live a healthy and active life through medical technology,” Schmuckal said.
Schmuckal described himself as an active runner and began running more than a decade ago when his younger sister was planning to run a marathon. He said he went from not running to doing a marathon six months later and has been running since.
“It wasn’t necessarily the smartest decision. It wasn’t the easiest, but I’ve had the running bug ever since,” he said. “I fell in love with running and it’s something that I do many times a week. It’s just kind of my me-time to clear my mind and think about what’s ahead for the day and just figure things out. It gives me energy and puts me in the right frame of mind.”
When it came time for the race, Schmuckal said he thought about all those who had helped in his recovery and the similar challenges the other runners were going through.
“I thought a lot about the people that were there for me, my family, just the outpouring of support,” he said, tearfully. “I spent a lot of time thinking about them. I spent a lot of time thinking about the other 19 champions and the people that were there overcoming their odds. So, that really motivated me to keep going. That wasn’t my best race, it wasn’t my fastest time, but eight months after my stroke, I ran a marathon. Not a lot of people can say that, so that’s pretty special to me.”
He wasn’t the only one to feel strong emotions during the race.
“That was amazing,” Debbie Schmuckal said. “Ironically, we had been talking the day before his stroke about how he wanted to go and pursue another marathon. The morning of the stroke, we went to go work out and that was day one [of training.]”
She said it was not only monumental for how far her husband had come but also an inspiration for her and their kids.
“I didn’t even know he was going to walk again, and then to see him do this has been amazing,” she said. “I know it’s been a big lesson for the kids and myself, not just that he did it, but there have been times we’ve done something that we’ve said to ourselves, ‘if dad can push himself through to finish that, then we have to give it our all.’”
Schmuckal said doctors still aren’t sure what exactly caused the stroke and described it as a “perfect storm of four or five different things.”
Still, he said, the experience gave him a new outlook.
“I would say that we all have things that we’re going through, and a lot of people are recovering from any kind of medical condition that you may know about or not know about,” Schmuckal said. “This really taught me the power of hope and the motivation to go on.”