POSTED: 5:40 p.m. HST, Jan 29, 2013
Chris McLachlin, 66, is a stroke survivor and proud of it.
While best known as the television color commentator for University of Hawaii volleyball games, McLachlin also gives his time to advocate for the American Heart Association of Hawaii, which will celebrate Heart Month in February. His connection to the nonprofit organization is a personal one: McLachlin suffered a stroke in 2008.
There was nothing in his medical history to suggest he was a likely candidate for heart problems. McLachlin was in good health and enjoying retirement after 37 years at Punahou School, where he racked up a string of championship titles in a 14-year coaching career in boys volleyball and basketball.
Six months into retirement, McLachlin went on a monthlong visit to California to see his grown children and take in son Spencer's volleyball match at Stanford University. But five days into the trip, while watching a basketball game on TV, "suddenly, the right side of my body got paralyzed, and I fell over on the couch," McLachlin said. "I tried to speak but I couldn't. My friend immediately told her husband, ‘Bob, he's having a stroke!'
"Luckily, she recognized what was happening to me, and within seconds they called 911. Two minutes later the paramedics were at the house."
A CAT scan revealed a blood clot in McLachlin's brain, and he was treated with t-PA, or tissue plasminogen activator, a drug that works best to dissolve brain clots when administered within three hours of a stroke.
"In a few hours my paralysis disappeared and my speech was back," he said.
Doctors told McLachlin he had suffered a "severe" stroke (types are mild, moderate, severe and massive) and would have to stay for a month at Stanford Hospital. "My neurologist told me it would be a year before I felt right, but I didn't believe him," he said.
And that was before he suffered a second, but mild, stroke while still in treatment after feeling claustrophobic when he was placed in an MRI scanner.
THROUGH all of this, McLachlin said he feels he's has angels on his side, and he was able to meet one who was directly responsible for saving his life.
When he brought some chocolate-covered macadamia nuts to his Stanford neurologist, the physician told McLachlin there was "a person in a lab coat who works at (biotechnology company) Genentech 20 miles away who should get that box."
A year would pass before he met that person in the lab coat. After relocating to Northern California to help with the Stanford men's volleyball team in 2009, McLachlin got a call from someone at the Genentech complex in South San Francisco asking if he would like to meet the scientist behind the genetic engineering methods used to produce the t-PA enzyme that improved therapy for dissolving blood clots.
"On the spur of the moment, I said, ‘Yes.' So instead of what I thought would be a private meeting, I'm led into this large conference room filled with people and TV cameras. I found out it was a gathering to honor Diane Pennica, my benefactor, a woman who worked mostly 17-hour days for two years straight without taking time off before successfully cloning t-PA. It was announced that because of her passion and dedication to her work, she had helped save 1.6 million stroke and 600,000 heart attack victims."
The two have stayed in touch, and McLachlin promised Pennica that one day he would bring her out to Hawaii. That will finally happen Feb. 5, on the eve of the International Stroke Conference to be held here, for the first time, at the Hawai‘i Convention Center. Approximately 4,000 medical professionals are expected to attend, and McLachlin and Pennica will be helping with conference registration.
It won't be the first time he has helped the cause. In 2009, McLachlin represented Hawaii at the American Heart Association's Lobby Day in Washington, D.C. He jokingly said he was treated like a rock star by attendees when a former basketball player he coached and mentored back in 1979 at Punahou asked to see him — at the White House.
While it was mostly a social visit to ask about his health, McLachlin used the opportunity to remind President Barack Obama about the need to support cardiovascular disease research by the National Institutes of Health.
<t0>"I also learned while in D.C. of the classic, day- to-day work volunteers were doing in the trenches — the real passion they had about fighting heart disease," he said.<t$>
McLachlin underwent a year of rigorous physical therapy and is able to walk about a half-hour every day for exercise.
"Because of the prescription drugs I take, I sometimes have issues with balance, and I try to avoid the midday sun," he said. "I have my moments of aphasia (difficulty forming language), and I notice I have to concentrate more on the homework I do before each volleyball broadcast.
"But I also still do sports psychology with individuals and team-building with both high school and college teams, much like what I did when I was at Stanford," he said.
STROKE WARNING SIGNS
>> Sudden numbness or weakness of the face, arm or leg, especially on one side of the body
HEART ATTACK WARNING SIGNS
Remembering the acronym FAST can also help you recognize stroke symptoms and what to do: