Kevin Sorbo: How Hercules battled back after suffering three strokes
In September 1997, actor Kevin Sorbo was on top of the world. Sorbo, then in his late 30s, was starring in the title role in the hit TV show “Hercules.” Much like his character, Sorbo seemed invincible.
But in the blink of an eye, a searing pain that shot down Sorbo’s left arm threatened to not only stifle his career, but threatened the loss of his arm — and his life. The source of the pain: an aneurysm in Sorbo’s arm. The aneurysm caused him to suffer three strokes.
Strokes are the third leading cause of death in the United States, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). They’re also expensive to treat. In 2010, the U.S. tab for strokes added up to $53.9 billion. That includes health insurance payments, out-of-pocket expenses and lost productivity. Stroke-related costs are expected to soar past $2.2 trillion in the next 40 years.
People at risk for stroke tend to be smokers; be overweight; have high blood pressure, high cholesterol or both; and be over age 65. None of those applied to Sorbo, though.
|Actor Kevin Sorbo wrote a book about his life journey after having three strokes in 1997.|
To raise awareness about strokes and to inspire fellow stroke patients and their families, Sorbo wrote a memoir, “True Strength: My Journey from Hercules to Mere Mortal — and How Nearly Dying Saved My Life.” He recently spoke with InsuranceQuotes.com about his medical scare.
InsuranceQuotes.com: What led up to the day you were diagnosed with an aneurysm?
Kevin Sorbo: I was experiencing pain in my left shoulder that would shoot down my arm, but I blew off the pain because I had always been a jock and had the “you live through the pain” mentality. I started having numbness in my arm and fingers. My middle finger through my pinkie would be ice cold, so I finally called the doctor.
He said it was basically the equivalent of smashing your funny bone hard and that would cause the sensations. But my arm kept getting weaker and weaker, and I was having more and more pain. Because I was a jock, I still went to the gym despite the pain. But one day I couldn’t pick up 10 pounds (worth of weights), which was unusual. I had been lifting weights for over 20 years and went to the gym daily.
I left the gym to go to the chiropractor’s office … . Minutes after leaving the chiropractor’s office, I heard two loud pops in my neck and my vision went crazy, my balance went crazy and I knew something wasn’t right. I was driving, so I pulled over because it was very unsettling. I knew something was wrong, but I didn’t want to admit it, so I drove home. I shouldn’t have done that.
InsuranceQuotes.com: What happened when you got home?
Sorbo: By the time I got home, my speech was slurred. I knew I was having strokes. My then-fiancée (now his wife of 13 years) rushed me to the hospital. By the time I got there, my left arm was blue. It turned out that lump in my shoulder was an aneurysm, and it was disrupting blood flow to my arm as well as releasing clots that swam upstream to my brain and caused three strokes. The doctors were worried I would lose my arm, so they put me on blood thinners to reduce the clots.
InsuranceQuotes.com: What residual affects did you suffer?
Sorbo: I still have 10 percent vision loss. And I spent four months in rehab learning to walk again.
Work suffered, too. I went from working 14 hours a day to one hour a day when I returned to “Hercules” for Season 6. I worked my way up to working eight hours a day at end of Season 7. It took three years to feel normal and completely recovered.
InsuranceQuotes.com: How did the doctors react to someone so young and physically fit having strokes? After all, you were playing the strongest man in the world.
Sorbo: I’m the opposite of what doctors look for in stroke victims. I didn’t have a history of smoking, high cholesterol, obesity, high blood pressure or any of the stroke risk factors. They suspect the aneurysm could have existed since birth but couldn’t really figure out the cause.
InsuranceQuotes.com: How did you deal with the emotional toll of rehabilitating after having the strokes?
Sorbo: My religion helped, but it was frustrating. As a result of the frustration and things like seeing the pity on people’s faces when I returned to work a different person than when we went on hiatus, I experienced depression, panic and anxiety attacks, which lasted about 2 years.
I battled those emotional effects as well as the physical ones with acupuncture, yoga, meditation and stretching. I watched a lot of sitcoms because I wanted to laugh to deal with things like the residual weakness in my limbs. I also wept like a baby because it felt like someone died. I had lost myself, and that wasn’t easy.
InsuranceQuotes.com: Hollywood tends to downplay these types of health crises. Why talk about this now?
Sorbo: Everyone knows someone who has been through a health crisis. And I want people to know you can live through it and battle back physically and mentally.
InsuranceQuotes.com: How do you feel today?
Sorbo: Terrific. I feel wonderful and grateful to be alive. I’m back to working making several movies a year and enjoying life as a husband, father and golfer.