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by Robert Thomas

Many residents in the city of the Milwaukee’s central city remember me from my years as Youth Director at the North Central YMCA.  Others recall their visits to Robby’s Billiards on Teutonia Avenue, followed by Robby’s Drive In, also on Teutonia Avenue.

Others probably visited the Fox Trap or one of the many service stations we owned.  We employed thousands, over the years, at these places of business, including Robby’s Catering and Robby’s Corn Roast, at Summerfest for over 40 years.

I have always been a hard worker and I also admit a hard partier in my younger years.  As a seasoned athlete, from high school until graduation from college, I was a relay runner, with full scholarship at Marquette University and a high hurdlers champ who even prepared for the US Olympics, at my best times, so I never thought I would be a stroke victim.

Yes, I knew about high blood pressure, it has run in my family for many years.  And I definitely understood that it was something I needed to watch.   But life, business challenges, just everyday living can often make us forget about ourselves, and as long as you feel okay, you can ignore and deny the things that are most important.  Your health!

People often ask me what did you feel.  And I can tell you that I did not feel anything until I had my first stroke.  Yes, I had severe headaches, several times before I had my stroke, but I thought it was the travel, the late nights, not eating as well as I should:  Loving that fried chicken and tasty soul foods, loaded with oils and salt and everything I considered “good”.

But what I felt most was the feeling of being trapped.  No one ever talks about stress, pressure, challenges and feeling helpless to change your circumstances or your financial condition.   And I believe that is a major contributor to strokes, especially in the Black community  We are often challenged by monetary conditions and challenged to try to make do! 

I made a bad mistake by investing in a gospel show during the Atlanta Olympics.  I had already lost money when my food vending investment failed to get the traffic the promoters had indicated we should receive.  So those two bad ventures left me with a feeling of being boxed in. 

The gospel show was designed to make-up for the losses at the food vending event...when both failed, I failed.  That feeling of failure, what will I do, how did I make that mistake, were the things that tipped me over.   My blood pressure was over 215 over 165!  I have learned that the perfect pressure is 120 over 80 and a good norm is 130 over 80.  So you can see I was a walking time-bomb! I truly was a quiet storm waiting to happen.  What should have been avoided with medication and pulling away...letting go and letting God...became a occlusion of the brain and what is called a stroke.  That was 1996!  Yes, the money was gone, forever, but so was my mobility!

Rehabilitation was hard work but it was worth it because I learned to speak again.  I learned to walk with assistance. 

There is life after stroke if you get help right away.  But the real help comes in monitoring your blood pressure consistently, it comes in eating light and healthy.  Today vegetables are my friend, oatmeal is my classic in the morning; loads of water, fiber, no fat and reduced sweets. 

I still love my sweets but the sweets do not love me, so I have had to learn moderation.  While I still love food, moderation is my mantra.   I never smoked, never drank, my only fault has been too much work, too much food, too little exercise and denial of a very serious malady that disproportionately affects our community.

A stroke is no joke!  Respect the seriousness of high blood pressure and do as the doctors tell you.  Cut out all of the things that contribute to increasing your pressure, the fats, the lack of exercise, too many sweets and most of all not taking your medications as you should.  Just because you don’t feel it does not mean that it’s not happening!

And last but not least...always remember tomorrow is another day.  What looks like doom and gloom and no way out today is either the same the next day or better.  But you will not know the outcome unless you are alive to see it.  Take care of your health...let stress wait until tomorrow!  

If you don’t have an answer to your problems, you have to accept the failure!  But don’t let the failure kill you.  Walk away for a minute, or a day or an extended period of time. 
Pray and believe that whatever the mind can conceive, it can achieve!   If you believe that you were born to be healthy and to enjoy a long life, you will live that life. 

Today, I show all of the signs of stroke but I have been blessed to see long years, my grandchildren mature and to live a meaningful, productive life.   Just imagine what it would have been like if I had also taken care of my blood pressure. 

Live your best only have one chance!  A stroke is no joke!  So take charge of your life today!....

**Robert Thomas is the Associate Publisher of the Milwaukee Community Journal and directs its extensive circulation each week.

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