Stroke recovery challenges 83-year-old marathon runner
Robert “Bob” Nepple has been on the run since he was 12 years old – and had no plans to slow down until a recent illness brought him to Hennepin Healthcare.
“I like to run,” he said. “I would run to school. It was about a mile.” Not including those unofficial miles back and forth to school, the 83-year-old has run at least 1,000 miles in his life, including to the top of Pike’s Peak and back, which is 26 miles.
Although he’s lived most of his life within blocks of Hennepin Healthcare (he was born at St. Barnabas Hospital), Bob has put many miles on his feet running. Most recently he’s participated in virtual races where you sign up, run a distance wherever you want, and then report your results online.
“You can actually find out how you did with other men and women in your age group,” he explains.
His most recent race was last fall – a half marathon. It was a 100-mile run; 1 mile/day each day. He started that race in August 2020 and finished in November 2020. Not bad at all for a guy his age with a few minor health concerns. But just a few months later, in March of 2021, Bob had a stroke.
He was in bed and reports noticing a bad taste in his mouth, similar to when his blood sugar is too low.
“I thought I’d better check my blood sugar, but when I got up, I wasn’t walking well. I checked my sugar, it was good. I didn’t want to wake my wife. I figured I’d had a stroke, but I didn’t feel too bad, so I went back to sleep.”
The next morning Bob and his wife had chiropractic appointments downtown. They walked from the Hennepin Ave. Bridge to the Soo Line Building. Very, very slowly. When they arrived at the chiropractor’s office, the doctor said he couldn’t let Bob leave in the condition he was in. The chiropractor called 911 and first responders came to help. An ambulance brought him to HCMC.
“I knew he was going to the right place,” said Bob’s wife, Debbie.
The stroke affected his motor skills on the right side of his body, but not his cognition. As a runner, Bob never imaged he would not be able to walk, talk, eat and swallow.
After receiving comprehensive therapy at Knapp Rehabilitation, Bob was discharged on April 15.
He has always been active and he’s had several jobs in his lifetime, including being an electrical and mechanical inspector, and working in accounting. He also worked for the Billy Graham Ministry and volunteered part-time for Meals on Wheels before his stroke.
“In 1963 me and some of my friends got together and said ‘let’s run a marathon,’” said Bob. It was the first organized marathon in Minneapolis – later to become the Twin Cities Marathon.”
Recovering from his stroke now seems like a marathon to Bob, who has always been active, but he remains positive and grateful.
“I’m thankful that it didn’t affect my ability to think,” he said. “I can still remember things and do things – but my right side still needs some work.”
His advice for those who think they may be experiencing a stroke?
“Don’t hesitate to call for help. Call right away. I didn’t want to bother anyone – but I should have.”
The Hennepin Stroke Center treats more than 80% of patients in less than 60 minutes compared to the national average of 59%. The center has state-of-the-art procedures and unsurpassed inpatient and outpatient rehabilitative services. Learn the signs of a stroke and BE FAST! Visit hennepinhealthcare.org/stroke to learn more about our amazing stroke center.
B – Balance (Sudden loss of balance / dizziness)
E – Eyes (Vision loss of one or both eyes)
F – Face (Facial weakness or drooping)
A – Arms (Weakness of arms)
S – Speech (Difficult or slurred speech)
T – Time (Call 911 now!!)