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Cross-country bike trip to raise awareness about strokes stops in Detroit

Detroit     Stroke survivors made a pit stop Friday in Corktown from their bike ride across the country to raise awareness about strokes and the recovery process.

Stroke Across America is a cross-country bike ride that started on May 19 in Astoria, Oregon and ends Aug. 27 in Boston. The 4,300-mile ride, with nearly 150,000 feet going uphill or at an incline,  is the product of married California couple Debra Meyerson and Steve Zuckerman, founders of Stroke Onward, a nonprofit for stroke awareness and building community around the recovery process.  

"Recovery is both rehabilitation and rebuilding purpose," Zuckerman said. "In the stroke recovery world, people often use the word recovery and rehabilitation interchangeably. And what our work is all about is saying: rehabilitation is critically important and you want to do as much of it as you possibly can."

The Stroke Across America team includes him, his wife,  stroke survivors Michael Obel-Omia and Joe Golden, traumatic brain injury survivor Whitney Hardy and a dog, Rusti.

The team was more than halfway across the country when they reached Detroit on Friday.

The stop at Detroit Axe and The Yard at Corktown, which drew about 75 attendees, featured family games, food and survivor speeches from the team and family friends.

"Events like this are about raising awareness for stroke and aphasia, and in particular what we call the emotional journey to rebuild identity," Zuckerman said. "You work your butt off in rehabilitation to try to get your capabilities back, but most don't get all the capabilities back and there really isn't any help in the system for that."

Meyerson, 65, who grew up in Detroit, founded Stroke Onward with her husband after experiencing  a life-threatening stroke in 2010. It partly paralyzed her and left her unable to speak.

"I had to relearn how to make a sound and how to say my name," said Meyerson, who taught at Stanford University before her stroke. "For three years, I did therapy, therapy and therapy, but I couldn't be the professor I was before."

Meyerson was unable to teach, take care of her family or herself anymore. Zuckerman became her "care-partner," or someone supporting an individual who had a stroke.

"For care-partners, the big difference is we have choices. I can choose to change my career. Deb was forced to change her career," Zuckerman said. "But I have slowed down a career that I loved to be able to build a different career with Deb, so that we could do the work we're doing around strokes. I would have never done that if I were not supporting her."

Meyerson is able to walk and speak with limited speech she learned through rehabilitation. After that experience, she and her husbandwanted to raise awareness about  the aftermath of a stroke, called aphasia.

Aphasia is the condition caused by an injury to the brain, most commonly from a stroke, according to the National Aphasia Association.  It can include language impairments, comprehension of speech and ability to read and write, the group reported.

Carol Persad, director of the University of Michigan Aphasia Program, lauded Stroke Across America's work to highlight the condition. 

"It's amazing to have people like this," Persad said. "That advocacy piece is so important to people who are dealing with these kinds of things. It gives you a sense of purpose."

Debbie Steinberg, a childhood friend of Meyerson, said Meyerson is motivation to keep going despite her inabilities. 

"It's inspiring," Steinberg said. "You think you may have something going on then it's like, wow, you see someone like her and she inspired me every day."

A common theme at the Friday event was of rehabilitation and rediscovery.

"Aphasia is a loss of language, not intellect," Zuckerman said. "People don't understand that people with aphasia, you have to give them more time, give them space and a little quiet. They still have a ton that they still want to share."