ShareThis Page
Ben Schmitt

Stroke survivor, seeming 'person of model health,' offers lessons

Ben Schmitt
| Monday, July 4, 2016, 9:00 p.m.
Darren Nichols, stroke survivor, of Southfield, Michigan.
Darren Nichols, stroke survivor, of Southfield, Michigan.
Darren Nichols, stroke survivor, of Southfield, Michigan.
Darren Nichols, stroke survivor, of Southfield, Michigan.

Darren Nichols views himself as a prime example that a stroke can seize almost anyone not in control of their diet and blood pressure.

He's never weighed more than 160 pounds, and before Sept. 25, 2014, he lived a reasonably active, athletic life. Most knew him as a laid-back family man with a witty sense of humor.

“Some perceived me as a person of model health,” Nichols says.

Those perceptions changed in public fashion when Nichols, then a reporter for The Detroit News, suffered a massive stroke in front of news colleagues in City Hall. He remembers his right leg giving out and the right side of his 6-foot frame going numb before a colleague from a competing newspaper called 911.

He woke in Detroit Receiving Hospital two hours later to a surreal scenario: TV news was reporting the incident.

Doctors told him his blood pressure, which had always bordered on risky, spiked and caused the stroke.

Only 43 years old, Nichols felt grateful to be alive. He knew he had a long recovery. And during those solitary moments lying in the hospital bed, he found comfort in music that he played constantly on his iPad. He'd listen to gospel to replace church along with R&B and hip-hop.

He promised himself to live healthier, work hard in his rehab and find a way to control internal stress. Months later, he became an ambassador for the American Stroke Association.

I competed against Nichols when I worked for the Detroit Free Press, from 1999 to 2010, and we became friends.

We spoke recently after he responded to a tweet I posted about the Food and Drug Administration's asking the food industry to cut back on the amount of sodium added to some foods. He told me he had lectured about unhealthy amounts of sodium in the diet.

The average American consumes around 3,400 mg of sodium daily, with 75 percent coming from processed and restaurant foods. The FDA wants Americans to reduce daily intake to about 2,300 mg.

Nichols calculated his sodium intake the day before his stroke: he ate two McDonald's chicken sandwiches for lunch and a frozen lasagna meal for dinner. He estimated that he consumed 8,300 mg of sodium during that day.

“As a reporter, you know how there's never time to eat lunch — you just grab something quickly,” he said. “I was living my life that way. I ate a lot of fast food.”

Metabolism apparently kept him slim, but the silent killer of high blood pressure was secretly building inside. Before the stroke, Nichols tried to monitor his blood pressure at home because of his borderline dangerous readings and genetic predisposition to hypertension.

“I probably hadn't checked it in three months,” he told me. “And I paid for it.”

Nearly two years later, Nichols, now 45, still hasn't regained full mobility on his right side. He's added a twist to his recovery: He now posts dance videos on YouTube to document his progress. A physical therapist recommended he record himself when Nichols jokingly lamented about his newfound lack of rhythm.

When Nichols, a father of 8-year-old twins, lectures about his condition, he channels Motown's Temptations in his opening remarks.

“It was the 25th of September. A day I'll always remember. 'Cause that was the day I almost died.”

Ben Schmitt is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 412-320-7991 or bschmitt@tribweb.com.

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.

click me