The devastating impact of strokes and what you can do to help prevent them

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DENVER -- As American Stroke Month gets underway, doctors want us to know that stroke is the fifth leading cause of death in this country, and the number one cause of disability.

Steve Rydalch knows all about the devastating impacts of stroke.

At age 27, he spent his free time climbing Colorado’s 14ers.

The Parker man thought he was the picture of health until he was diagnosed with a congenital heart defect and needed surgery.

But the surgery did not go well and Steve ended up on a heart-lung bypass machine.

“After a week, it threw a blood clot to my brain, and that’s when I had my first stroke," he said.

A month later, he suffered a second stroke and when he came to, he couldn’t move anything but his eyes.

"For a long time the hospital had me doing blink once for yes, twice for no,” he recalled.

Slowly, with therapy, movement started to come back with and Steve was able to get a heart transplant.

“Recovering from the strokes has been a full time job,” he said.

Now at age 33, Steve goes for regular walks.

He has weakness on one side and can’t feel his feet, but he’s hoping to climb another 14er by August.

He also wants to raise awareness about strokes -- and so does the medical community.

Dr. David Case with University of Colorado Hospital says the most important this is to recognize the signs and symptoms of stroke and get help.

“If someone becomes weak on one side of their body, if someone has difficulty speaking or understanding, if they are having new vision complaints, or of they are becoming numb on one side of their body, these are all signs and symptoms of stroke. So if that happens call 911 immediately,” Dr. Case said.

But there are ways to reduce your risk -- 80 percent of strokes are preventable if you eat right, stay active, don’t smoke and control your blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar.