Lou Marino was a young, healthy local musician and father of two young children, who enjoyed hiking and mountain biking in his spare time. He took care of himself and his blood pressure and cholesterol were normal. Yet only days after his 33rd birthday, he suffered a severe stroke.

Lou was divorced and home with his six year old and two year old when he ran upstairs to put on his pajamas. His ears started buzzing and he got dizzy. He ran down the stairs and tossed his cellphone to his daughter and told her to call 911. Then he ran outside and started screaming to his neighbors for help. All he could think about was what would happen to his kids. Luckily a neighbor came to his rescue, took care of the children while the ambulance arrived for Lou.

At first, the doctors suspected a seizure and gave him medication for it, which only made him sicker. His sister had contacted his girlfriend, who rushed to the hospital. She noticed Lou’s speech was getting worse and his movements were off on one side, so asked about stroke. Once neurologists examined him, they agreed and rushed him to Danville for surgery, which was successful in clearing the blockage.

Lou spent the next few days in ICU in an acute care hospital. When he was moved out of ICU, he immediately began physical therapy. They worked on some core strength and balance exercises. After a week in the hospital, Lou was transferred to Heinz Rehab Hospital.

Initially, Lou had no idea how hard therapy would be. He now understands that therapists were trying to get as much functional gain from him in as short a time as possible. “This rehab was extra tough on me because I asked for it,” says Lou. “I respect each and every therapist for dishing it out.”

Lou’s stroke caused significant muscular damage, but he is so grateful his intellect remained intact. “I’ve had to learn to swallow and walk again,” Lou says. “But I returned to work, and my family and I are together again.”

Back when Lou was in inpatient rehab, he realized the one thing he didn’t have in common with the other stroke survivors was age. He realized stroke does not discriminate by age, and in fact, some strokes happen before the patient is even born.

When Lou began attending a support group for stroke survivors, he couldn’t relate as well to the older members, who had different issues than he did. Most were retired with grown children. But he met Ellen Rome, a college student whose stroke occurred when she was only 22. Together, they founded SAY or Strokes Affect the Young, a support group for younger survivors where they can discuss things like school, returning to work, childcare issues, and more.

Lou continues to practice guitar, which helps with his fine motor skills. He was always inspiring as a performing artist, and a father. Now he also inspires other young people who suffer a stroke, by sharing his struggles and his triumphs.