AFTER THE STROKE: Mike Jones takes steps to make his ‘second chance’ benefit others

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AURORA | Like so many stroke survivors, Mike Jones thought it would never happen to him.

He watched what he ate. He played tennis every weekend. He was a member at the Colorado Athletic Club in Inverness.

“I consider myself a pretty fit guy … I don’t just sit at home inactive,” says Jones, a 61-year-old project manager for an Israeli software company in the Denver Tech Center. “In my mind, I thought I’d probably be the last guy to have a stroke.”

But Jones’ naiveté was quickly and emphatically altered on a cool October morning at Denver International Airport in 2014. En route to visit his daughter, Kristin, and his grandchildren in St. Louis, Jones began to feel dizzy the moment he stepped off of the boarding bridge and onto the plane that was supposed to take him to Missouri. Foggy, but still able to function, Jones slowly made his way to his seat on the plane, where he immediately collapsed from exhaustion. His wife, Mary Beth, noticed Jones was slurring his speech and called for him to be escorted off of the plane. Moments later, EMTs on-hand at DIA determined Jones was having a stroke and transported him via ambulance to the Stroke Center at University of Colorado Hospital on the nearby Anschutz Medical Campus in Aurora. Jones arrived at UCH, which boasts the 26th-best neurology department in the country, according to U.S. News & World Report, and is a regional center for stroke treatment, shortly after he got off the plane.

“You think of your chances of having a stroke, and then having one at the airport and then being taken to the regional center — a lot of things came together,” says Jones, who lives on the border of Aurora and Centennial. “And I’m very thankful that they did.”

Doctors in the neurology department at UCH determined that Jones had suffered an ischemic stroke, meaning that a blood vessel in his brain was blocked and forming a clot. The longer such a stroke goes undiagnosed, the longer the brain goes without oxygen and the more debilitating the after effects can become. Following abatement measures that were administered during the ambulance ride and at the airport, Jones was given a clot-busting drug that removed the blockage in his brain before much serious damage was done. Able to return to work just two weeks later, Jones says that he now experiences some difficulty writing and only has trouble speaking when he’s tired.

“It was one of those miracles of life,” he says.

Now, about a year-and-a-half and a world of newly acquired stroke information removed from his experience at DIA, Jones is aiming to pay his fortune forward by participating in the National Stroke Association’s Comeback Trail 5k Series, a local race intended to celebrate stroke survivors and raise money for future stroke research.

“I thought that this was a miracle and a second chance, and I wondered what I could do to give back,” Jones says. “When I saw this race coming up, I thought this was one way to give back to the community and to stroke victims since I am one of the ones who survived this very well.”

Slated for May 1 at Hudson Gardens in Littleton, the race is vying to raise $25,000 for stroke research. Race participants had raised $5,480 of that total as of Tuesday afternoon, according to the race website.

“The Comeback Trail 5k Series is symbolic of the physical, mental and spiritual journey of recovery for stroke survivors,” Robyn Moore, CEO of the National Stroke Association, said in a statement. “The events give stroke survivors and caregivers an opportunity to celebrate recovery and enable the broader community to support stroke.”

There are two other races in the Comeback Trail Series slated to take place in New York and Florida later this fall.

Jones said that he’s hopeful the event will help raise awareness for strokes, which he added sometimes don’t get the attention in the medical fundraising community they deserve.

“Every 40 seconds someone in the U.S. has a stroke, and to me, that’s kind of impactful,” he said.

Jones joins more than 6 million stroke survivors living the U.S. today, a statistic that is expected to jump to more than 10 million survivors in the next 14 years, according to the National Stroke Association. The organization also reports that strokes kill twice as many women as breast cancer each year.

“We see a lot of breast cancer events, but if something kills twice as many people, I don’t know if we give it the exposure it deserves,” Jones said.