Brain injury survivor forges on in fight for recovery
Brain injury survivor forges on in fight for recovery
Author Rob Plaskas, pictured with his dog, Maggie, at their Springfield home, wrote about his recovery from a brain hemorrhage and the resulting brain damage causing right-sided paralysis, inability to talk and comprehend speech, and significant short-term memory loss in his book, “My Fight for Recovery: A story of overcoming life-threatening brain surgery.” [TED SCHURTER/The state journal register]
Springfield author writes about his recovery from a brain hemorrhage
By Steven Spearie
The State Journal – Register
A lot of people may not give a second thought to giving a firm handshake or running a 5k race.
Rob Plaskas does.
It has been 25 years since the 43-year-old Plaskas, who lives in Springfield and works for the Illinois House Republican staff, went through life-altering brain surgery as a high school junior.
Near the end of the operation, Plaskas suffered a brain hemorrhage, the equivalent of a major stroke that paralyzed his right side and his speech. Some quick thinking by the surgeon saved Plaskas’ life.
Plaskas said it took physical and emotional determination to get where he’s at today. His story is documented in his new book “My Fight For Recovery” (iUniverse).
“Most people don’t even know I have a disability,” said Plaskas, a communications analyst. “I walk fine, my arms move fine, my hand is fine. I give good handshakes with my right hand.
“I’m still alive, walking, talking, out socializing.”
Plaskas still puts in the work. He goes to the gym six times every week, working on his strength and especially focusing on the right side of my body.
Plaskas can jog and ran his first 5k race in 2017, running one every year since.
He had a speech therapist up until about two years ago, but still works on speech exercises on his own.
Plaskas maintains a healthy diet, cutting down calories from saturated fats and sodium, which he claims gives him more energy.
Because Plaskas is more prone to dementia as a stroke victim, he keeps his mind challenged by playing chess.
This coming from someone who couldn’t speak after his surgery.
“It took me a couple of days to get out the word ‘mom,’” he recalled. “It was tough.”
At age 11, Plaskas, who grew up in Oswego, about 45 minutes southwest of Chicago, was diagnosed with a lesion doctors thought was a benign tumor in the left temporal lobe of his brain. A neurologist recommended that Plaskas get an MRI every four months to see if the tumor was growing.
Doctors told Plaskas there was no growth of the tumor the first couple of years and released him from their care.
When Plaskas was playing in a summer basketball league before his junior year in high school, he suffered a simple partial seizure, the result of epileptic activity in the same region of his brain. Plaskas recalled that the seizure included a reeking odor, “like burning tires, a classic sign of something gone terribly wrong in the brain.”
An MRI revealed that Plaskas’ tumor had grown from the size of a pea when it was first taken five years prior to the size of a walnut. A pediatric neurosurgeon recommended immediate surgery.
Plaskas said he and his family his parents Bob and Margaret, who still live in Oswego, and his brother Aaron who now lives outside of Des Moines went to Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., but decided to have the surgery at an excellent medical center in Chicago.
As the neurosurgeon was removing the last piece of the tumor, a vessel in Plaskas’ brain ruptured.
The neurosurgeon got clamps on the vessel immediately, but Plaskas lost so much blood about one-third from his body that they had to put him into a medically-induced coma.
“I essentially suffered a major stroke,” Plaskas said, “and came very close to death because the flow of blood in my brain disrupted my normal circulation.”
According to Harvard Medical School, hemorrhagic strokes account for about 20% of all strokes.
When Plaskas woke up, he noticed he couldn’t use the right side of his body.
“I couldn’t talk. I couldn’t write. I had short-term memory loss,” Plaskas said. “Most brain hemorrhage survivors who are adults with similar circumstances to mine are not able to walk or talk without difficulty.”
Plaskas had other ideas.
After surgery, he went to a rehabilitation hospital in Wheaton to learn how to speak again and move his right leg and arm. After four months, Plaskas said he was able to walk with a limp. He eventually returned to his high school.
“Getting through high school was tough because of the cognitive damage from my stroke,” Plaskas admitted. “I had a lot of help. Without tutors, I would have failed, but I got enough credits (to earn) my high school diploma.”
Plaskas stayed in the area to attend a community college, eventually earning an associate’s degree, but it was at Illinois State University where Plaskas said he really flourished.
There his grades and social life improved. Plaskas said his continued work with a speech therapist increased his confidence and self-esteem.
Plaskas earned a bachelor’s degree in communication studies and landed an internship at the Illinois Capitol in 2004. Afterward, he got hired the by House Republican staff.
Matt Eddy, the staff’s deputy director of communications, started just after Plaskas. Eddy, the son of former Illinois state representative Roger Eddy, admitted he didn’t know until recently much about Plaskas’ travails.
“It’s a remarkable story,” Eddy said. “I think he’s legitimately proud of the obstacles that he’s been able to overcome and he should be and he’s rightfully gaining in self confidence.”
Plaskas, who analyzes bills, budgets and resolutions when the House is normally in session, has been categorizing, digitizing and tagging, Eddy said, thousands of photos taken by staffers. Plaskas has now added some photography and videography duties to his plate.
“We definitely consider each other to be family in the house GOP staff,” Eddy said. “We have to stick together.
“I think a lot of people have come to the realization about his inspirational story after his book has come out and his being more open sharing his story with us.”
Eddy said the book was like “the culmination of his recovery, a big red underline of perseverance.”
Plaskas wanted to share his story with others “to show them that they are not alone and things will get better,” he said. “A severe brain injury survivor can accomplish many recovery goals if they have confidence, determination and hard work.”
Plaskas said he can’t deal in “what-might-have-beens,” especially surrounding his surgery, and whether he should have had it earlier on in his childhood.
Plaskas said he’s plowing forward, more determined than ever.
“I do have a lot to be thankful for,” Plaskas said. “I’ve got my life. I’m thankful for all the people, my family and friends, who supported me through the tough times.”
For more information or to buy the book, go to https://robplaskas.com/.
"Article reposted with permission from Steven Spearie, The State Journal-Register”