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Stroke survivor is in for a long run down under

Dan Englund (front left) is pictured with his family including his son, Wyatt, wife, Tania, and daughter, Avalynne. Dan had a stroke in 2011. (Contributed photo)1 / 2
Dan Englund (right) and his brother, David Englund (left) spent a few years in the U.S. Army National Guard before Dan moved to Australia with his wife. (Contributed photo)2 / 2

Every 45 seconds, someone in the U.S. has a stroke, which accounts for 795,000 victims each year.

While anyone can have a stroke, some factors can increase the risk, such as smoking, an unhealthy diet, physical inactivity, ethnicity, and family history of strokes.

It is also estimated that only 28 percent of stroke victims are younger than age 65.

A 39-year-old man originally from Alexandria, Dan Englund of Emerald, Australia, who has no family history of stroke and maintains a healthy lifestyle by running, doesn't fit the profile of a stroke victim - yet, unexpectedly, in 2011, he had a stroke.

"The day prior to it, I ran my usual 21 kilometer run to the lake and went out for coffee and shopping with my family. I had no indication of anything being wrong," he said.

The next morning on May 16, however, Englund felt dizzy and heard humming in his left ear while walking down the hallways of his house. Tania, his wife, told him to lie down for a minute, but instead, he decided to check e-mails for his business in his office.

While at the computer, he lost all feeling in his left side, but managed to get to the couch in the office before yelling as loudly as he could for his wife.

He was then taken to the local Emerald Hospital and kept there for seven hours until they could have him airlifted to the Wesley Hospital is Brisbane, which is 1,000 kilometers away.

"First they told me not to worry and that I would get better. This is the best thing that you can tell a stroke survivor," he noted.

After numerous tests and scans, it was found that a 12mm hole that had been in his heart since birth was the cause of the stroke.

"The relief of knowing what caused the stroke and that it could be fixed was amazing," he said. "While I was recovering, I decided that if I could ever run again that I would like to do a fundraising run of 1,000 km from Emerald to Brisbane."

That's about 621 miles.

With that goal in mind, he started to recover from the stroke that had left the left side of his body partially paralyzed. The stroke was caused by a blood clot that had migrated to the top of his spinal cord, blocking the nerve endings from his brain to his body.

The doctors implanted an occulator, a device that covered the hole in his heart, and he started intensive inpatient therapy quickly after.

Miraculously, six days after the stroke, he was given a cane to use to walk around his room and three days after that, when he was transferred to a rehabilitation hospital, he was allowed to move around the ward on his own.

"It felt like freedom," he recalled.

For three more weeks, he stayed in the rehabilitation hospital and underwent intensive physiotherapy.

Though difficult at times, his hard work paid off. Just two weeks after his stroke, he took his first walk outside, and one week following that, he took a small run down the hallway.

"I was very dedicated to my physiotherapy as it was essential to my recovery," Englund said, recalling that his years in the U.S. Army National Guard taught him a lot that has helped him to get through the experience, like "you must give your best and nothing less," and "that if it is meant to be it's up to me."

He followed these rules and took them to heart - running almost every day, even when he returned home to recover.

Then, a year after his stroke, he ran his first marathon - 26 miles.

Though he was ecstatic to have accomplished such an undertaking in such a short amount of time, he strived for better.

Since then, he has continued to train almost every day, one to seven hours a day and his goal of running a fundraising event has become reality.

"When things are hard while I'm training, all I have to do is think of the days when I couldn't run and of all the other stroke survivors that would love to be able to do what I can do now," he said.

Englund's FAST run stands for: F - face, A - arm, S - speech, and T - time.

These words are the warning signs for a stroke. The National Stroke Association describes that if someone is having a stroke, half of their face will droop, one of their arms may drift downward if asked to rise up and their speech will be slurred. If any of these warning signs exist, call 9-1-1 immediately.

The run is going to start on August 4 in Emerald, and continue until September 10 to open Stroke Week at the Wesley Hospital in Brisbane.

Running a total of 1,000 km, he will run an average of 39 km a day, or 24.6 miles. Throughout the run, he will have six rest stops, each for two days.

His goals for this run are to raise $50,000, to boost stroke awareness, promote a healthy lifestyle, and provide information on how to avoid and prevent a stroke, such as getting blood pressure and cholesterol levels checked.

"I would also like to let stroke survivors know that a great recovery is possible if you don't give up," he added.

Though much of his recovery has been because of his perseverance, his family has also been supportive, especially his wife. David Englund, Dan's twin brother from Alexandria, referred to her as the engine to Dan's motor.

They relocated 1,000 km away and lived in a hotel room for five weeks in order to be close to Dan.

"Both of my children knew that daddy had a stroke and had to get his heart fixed," he said. "My daughter, Avalynne, who was 2 years old, had the most trouble with daddy not being able to come home. But my son, Wyatt, who was 4 at the time, managed well but after such a long time became quite sad and wanted to go home."

Though his brother's stroke was agonizing, David noted that the one moment that made him tear up the most was when he saw a picture of Avalynne sitting on top of Dan while he was in the hospital because he didn't have the ability to move the left side of his body to hold her.

"I can't imagine what it's like to not be able to hold my kids, it made me sad to see that," David said.

But through it all - the emotional and physical - Dan managed to pull through and surprise everyone with how quickly he recovered.

"I am inspired by people who do amazing things against great odds, like Bear Grylls who broke his back during a parachuting accident, but went on to climb Mount Everest," he said.

Because of his perseverance through the traumatic event though, for many people, he has become the inspiration that he has always looked up to.

"Things happen for a reason. He turned something negative that had happened to him and made it positive," David said. "There was never a doubt in his mind about running again and being able to do the run. I am very proud of him for everything he has accomplished."