A stroke is truly one of the more devastating, but also misunderstood afflictions someone can have. —Salt Lake County Councilman Randy Horiuchi

SALT LAKE CITY — It's hard to believe that someone would be grateful to suffer a stroke, but that’s exactly how longtime Salt Lake County Councilman Randy Horiuchi feels.

"It's made me, in many ways, a better human being, and so I'm more competent," he said. "It's hard to say that, but I do believe that."

On Jan. 27 the councilman was on his way to an appointment. He had just started his car when his foot fell asleep on the pedal and his arm hit the horn. Horiuchi's daughter rushed outside and, despite his protest, insisted on calling 911. She thought he was having a heart attack.

When the ambulance arrived, Horiuchi got quite a shock. "They were down in about 5 minutes, hooked me up to an EEG and said, ‘You're having a stroke,'" he recalled.

"I can't really pinpoint the time I was having it," Horiuchi said. "It's not like a heart attack, where all of a sudden you have a pain in your chest."

Because the stroke was caught so quickly, emergency responders were able to prevent Horiuchi from having another stroke, possibly saving his life.

"A stroke is truly one of the more devastating, but also misunderstood afflictions someone can have," Horiuchi said.

What followed has been months of therapy, both physical, and cognitive. Horiuchi's speech wasn't affected, but he has some nerve damage. He said therapy with University of Utah Dr. Heather Hayes has made all the difference in his recovery.

"All the therapies, whether it's physical, occupational or speech, you may have any types of those impairments, and sometimes these can be long-lasting deficits," Hayes said. "But if you continue to work on them, and you have that guidance of ‘how can I work on them?' then it can be extremely valuable to allow them to continue to improve in years to come."

In addition to therapy, Horiuchi has changed his diet and is exercising more. A past state chairman of the Democratic Party, was elected in 1990 to the County Commission, where he served two terms. He was elected to the new County Council in 2002 and is currently in his second six-year term.

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Strokes are the fourth leading cause of death in this country and the leading cause of disability, according to the University of Utah Clinical Neurosciences Center. There are several warning signs to look for. Does one side of a person’s face droop? Does one arm drift downward? And is the person having problems speaking? Every second counts when someone is having a stroke, so it’s important to call 911 if someone is experiencing any of these symptoms.

The American Heart Association is holding a “My Heart, My Life” walk at Sugarhouse Park Saturday, Sept. 22. It's a campaign to raise awareness about heart disease and stroke. For more details go to www.heartwalkutah.org.  

E-mail: jstagg@ksl.com