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He had a stroke in his 30s and doesn't want you to have one

Thursday, December 17, 2015

By: BayCare Clinic staff

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Matt Ronk, a sergeant with the Brown County Sheriff’s Department, is living proof that a stroke can and does happen to people of all ages, even those often thought too young or too healthy to experience such a health emergency.


Matt was at work one morning in June 2015 when he started feeling slightly odd. He didn’t think much of it. He already had brushed off brief but strange sensations days earlier following a visit to his doctor’s office. He was given medication to ease the annoying tingling and numbness in his arms and fingers and was to return for a follow up visit. The odd feelings assailing him this particular morning seemed more of the same. He would soon find they were far different.


During a 7 a.m. training exercise, Matt felt the sensations worsening.


“Eventually I sat down and somebody asked me, actually a very good personal friend of mine, asked me what’s wrong. I tried to say something’s not right but it didn’t come out like that. The words were all garbled and he immediately said ‘hey, we’ve got to call an ambulance for him.’”


Matt’s fellow officers rushed him to Aurora BayCare Medical Center.


“When I got here I started getting a little better, I could talk normal but occasionally I couldn’t verbalize what I wanted to say,” he said. “And I thought, ‘it was a seizure, I’m getting better.’ I thought I’d be back to work in a couple hours at most.”


That wasn’t to be the case. Matt had suffered a stroke. MRI scans showed a large clot blocking an artery in his brain. 


Stroke patient


“I remember losing a lot of abilities,” Matt recalls. “I couldn’t count, I couldn’t read. The letters and numbers looked all jumbled. It looked like a foreign language.


“When I woke up, my wife said, ‘do you know my name?’ And I didn’t know it. … I didn’t remember all my kids’ names right away.”


After a five-day hospital stay and follow-up treatments that included visits to physical and speech therapists, Matt was cleared to return to work. It was three months and one day to the morning of his stroke.


“My goal was to get back to work as soon as possible,” he said. “Everybody’s stroke is unique … everybody’s recovery is different. I didn’t ever feel sorry for myself but there were some nights where I had my doubts … I wanted to return to work. That was the goal. I wanted to do it as soon as possible.”


Matt had no history of blood pressure problems, poor diet, inactivity, tobacco use, or advanced age, as is typically the case with most stroke victims. His physicians suggested an injury to his carotid artery may have been the culprit.


Nevertheless, today, Matt is a staunch advocate for stroke awareness and for those, who, like himself, experience stroke at an especially young age, he has this advice: “It’s important to recognize the signs of a stroke – facial drooping, weakness on one side, loss of speech – you have to call 9-1-1. It is essential. Seconds can matter.”