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Man recovers from rare "locked in" stroke

Was left only with use of eyelids
Posted at 11:49 AM, Jun 14, 2018

Imagine suffering a stroke and nobody notices. You look totally fine, but you can only move your eyes. That's what happened to one man who overcame the odds and then some.

Greeting people in his restaurant's dining room, and helping create delicious dishes in the kitchen are the moments Jim Cohen lives for. But a few years ago, all of it was in jeopardy.

"I thought I was screaming for my brother," Cohen said. "But I couldn't make it sound."

Cohen was lying in bed fully aware of everything around him, but could only blink his eyes.

"You're just locked in," Cohen said. "You're just locked in."

Cohen was experiencing Locked-In Syndrome, which is actually a rare type of stroke. A blood clot was preventing a part of his brain stem from getting blood, so signals couldn't get from his brain to his spinal cord.

"You can't move," Cohen said. "And you can't think."

Dr. Joshua Seinfeld, a neurosurgeon at UCHealth, performed surgery to restore blood flow to Cohen's brain. He said timing was everything.

"The fact that he got here while there were still a lot of brain left to save allowed us to restore the blood flow and give him a chance to make a meaningful recovery," Dr. Seinfeld said.

Dr. Seinfeld says two million brain cells die every minute blood flow is cut off, and that cell loss starts as soon as you start having symptoms. That's why he says if you or a loved one is feeling off, don't wait.

"If someone's having weakness in their face or an arm if they're having trouble speaking this is an emergency and you shouldn't wait to see if someone's going to get better over several hours or let them try to sleep it off," Dr. Seinfeld said.

For weeks after surgery Cohen could only use his eyes to communicate. Everything from when he was hungry, to if his daughter's fiance could have her hand in marriage.

"All I could do was blink," Cohen said. "So I blinked once. Which meant yes."

Being by her side on her wedding day became his motivation to recover.

"I had to walk to Lexie down the aisle," Cohen said.

Through months of therapy Cohen replaced the image of his reality with the image of himself in his mind.

"I never thought I would get up," Cohen said. "But then I would, you know, spend a couple minutes visualizing being able to walk. And so I would get up and do it."

Cohen defied expectations. And not only was he able to walk his daughter down the aisle, he now enjoys moments with her newborn daughter.

Cohen says he's grateful, for family and friends, and the ability to keep living his passion. It's something he says we can all do, no matter what challenge may have us locked in.

"You have to believe," Cohen said. "That you can do it. And you can't be afraid of things. And you have to see yourself doing those things. So far it's worked out for me."