MADISON COUNTY, Ky. (LEX 18) — Strokes are the fifth leading cause of death and the number one cause for disability in Kentucky, according to the American Heart Association.
Forty-year-old Eastern Kentucky University assistant basketball coach Steve Lepore would be one of the last people one would expect to have a stroke.
Lepore started playing basketball when he was about 10 years old. He played college ball for Northwestern before transferring to Wake Forest. He then played professionally in Europe before a semi-pro stint in the states.
"It's been a lifelong thing," he said. "After I finished (my career) I became a personal trainer for a little while, but then got back into coaching -- kind of something I've been doing my whole life."
Lepore said he knew he had high cholesterol and some family medical history but never expected what would happen to him on June 11.
"I came home for lunch, and I was just walking through my house I was actually walking to the kitchen. And I remember my like my hearing just felt a little bit weird, it almost felt like I was in a tunnel," he said. "And I felt a little lightheaded. And then, you know, I felt some kind of hit in my left side, and my left hip, and I looked down and it's my arm just kind of hanging there. And I looked down and I'm thinking like, 'What?' You know? 'I didn't move my arm.'"
After pinching his left arm with his right hand and not being able to feel anything, he knew something was really wrong.
Lepore's wife came home minutes later -- a fortunate coincidence, he said, because it is uncommon for both he and his wife to be home for lunch at the same time.
"As soon as she walked in the door I said, 'I can't feel my arm.' And immediately she said, 'We're going to the emergency room.' Which was unbelievable because I didn't think of going to the emergency room, or if she wouldn't have come home, I don't know how long I would have waited," he said.
When they arrived at Baptist Health in Madison County, due to COVID-19, his wife who was seven months pregnant could not come in with him. Minutes later, he was taken by ambulance to Lexington to see a neurologist.
Lepore said he learned a lot that day, including that he had a heart condition.
He said the doctors believe his scare was due to part of a blood clot breaking off. They also told him he has a hole in his heart, a condition known as patent foramen ovale.
"Everybody's born with one but before you're born you have an opening in your heart," Lepore said. "And then after you're born it closes up. And mine didn't close up completely."
Lepore said the condition affects about 20% of the population, but most people don't realize it until they have a stroke.
"That's when you find out about it," he said. "They call it an artifact that broke up went through that hole in my heart and when that happens, it shoots it up to the brain."
A week later, Lepore was on cholesterol medication and back at work. To say he feels lucky is an understatement.
"Every couple of days, I just kind of remind myself how lucky I am that I had a stroke and really don't have any side effects," he said. "And there's a lot of times, this is a very stressful job. My wife and I, we have a three-year-old daughter and then a two-month-old daughter so it's like things can get hectic and things can be crazy. You know, throw in the COVID-19 and all the craziness we're going through but it just puts everything in perspective."
Lepore also explained he chose to share his story because he has seen how sharing it with people around him has already caused those he loves to better position themselves to be healthy for many years to come. He hopes others will also take note.
"Your lifestyle is huge. And, you know, I already live a pretty healthy lifestyle workout I try to eat as healthy as I can. One of the biggest things, they asked me a question I got over and over in the hospital was, 'Do you smoke?' And what's your family history?'" he said. "Just living a healthy lifestyle. Being aware of the symptoms and then taking the medicine that they tell you to take in the exact way that they tell you to take it."
He said everyone, even younger folks, needs to put a doctor check-up on their to-do list.
"It just doesn't matter who you are, you got to get checked," Lepore said. "You have to see what your issues are because the thing about health is you can look like you're healthy, or you can look like you're not healthy but you can't see what's inside you don't know unless you get your physical."