ST. JOSEPH, Mo. (AP) — A person's life can change in an instant.
One morning in 2017, Alex Bonebrake woke up, saw his wife, Catherine, off to work and got on his treadmill to exercise. Shortly into his run, he fell to the floor. He had suffered a stroke.
While there were warning signs, like lightheadedness, dizziness and slurring speech, Bonebrake chalked them up to being the usual anxiety he's always had.
"For the longest time, I thought I had a migraine," he told the St. Joseph News-Press.
With May being American Stroke Month, the American Stroke Association wants people to be aware of the signs of a stroke, such as face drooping, arm weakness and speech difficulty.
Bonebrake's stroke was the result of a heart defect. A blood clot that was supposed to break up in his lungs ended up traveling to his brain.
After a year of rehabilitation and surgeries, including two on his brain, one which left his skull open for days while the swelling went down, and open heart surgery, Bonebrake is determined to get back to the life he had before the stroke, when he worked as a successful tattoo artist.
"This is just finding out what's normal for me now," he said.
Going into the Body Image Personal Training Gym in St. Joseph three days a week, Bonebrake has made great strides from where he was. He can sit, stand and lift weights on his own. His wife and Bob Boyles, the gym's owner and trainer, give him minimal help as he works on his strength and balance.
Boyles said he's been impressed by Bonebrake's improvement since coming to the gym in October 2017.
"That's all that matters to me because he's got so much riding on it. He's not like the average client that wants to lose a few pounds. He has his life ahead and he wants to get better for it," he said.
While Bonebrake's progress is sometimes slow and frustrating, he takes it in as part of the process.
"I think I've gotten in better shape physically than before all this happened," Bonebrake said.
While the past winter set Bonebrake back, he said he was encouraged by walking three miles daily during the summer of 2017. He said it was the first time he felt a sense of normalcy since the stroke.
"Before all of this, I was so independent and now, the last year and a half, I've relied on so many people taking care of me. Everything I'm doing now is based on getting back to being independent," he said.
After the stroke, the Bonebrakes said they were shocked to find out how common strokes are in young people. According to the peer-reviewed journal Neurology, researchers in 2005 found stroke incidents for people younger than 55 had increased from about 13 percent to 19 percent during the course of a decade.
"It's nice to know that I'm not alone. Young strokes are a common thing. Not that I would wish anyone to have a stroke, but it's nice to know that there's people out there that know what I've gone through," Bonebrake said.
Recovery has come with its complications, but one thing that has gotten the Bonebrakes through is their sense of humor. During his workout session, he cracks jokes that are so dirty, they couldn't be aired on basic cable, let alone printed in a family newspaper.
"Catherine gets the worst of it because she gets to deal with me when I'm angry and mad at the world about it. But I think just naturally, it's easier to kind of joke about and try to keep good humor about it and know it's something that just happens," he said.
As Bonebrake works on his strength, he's also networked with other young stroke victims with a support group in Kansas City.
"All these people had a stroke in their 20s and 30s. So it's good to know," Catherine Bonebrake said.
Don't ignore the warning signs, she said, because a stroke can happen to anyone.
"It's very important to know that this can happen and if you're feeling anything like these symptoms, just go and get it checked out. It's not worth it to risk it," she said.