'Hercules' Actor Talks to Heart Insight about Rebuilding His Life and Career after Three Strokes
You may remember Kevin Sorbo as the actor who played the mighty Hercules on a hit TV show. But at the time, few people were aware that the brawny star was struggling through the aftereffects of a series of strokes. Sorbo talks about his experiences—including his long and life-changing road to recovery—in the November issue of Heart Insight, a quarterly magazine for patients, their families and caregivers, published by the American Heart Association (AHA) and Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, a part of Wolters Kluwer Health.
Sorbo talked to Heart Insight's Anne Rosdahl about his strokes, which occurred amid his long-running TV role as the strongest man on Earth. He talks candidly about the frustrations and setbacks of his prolonged recovery, including the common problem of poststroke depression. Sorbo details his experiences in his new book, True Strength: My Journey from Hercules to Mere Mortal and How Dying Nearly Saved My Life, now available from Da Capo Press.
'Hercules Brought Down by an Aneurysm…It Seemed Like a Myth'
The star of a hit TV show and engaged to the beautiful actress Sam Jenkins, Sorbo seemed to be on top of the world in 1997. He'd had puzzling symptoms of pain and tingling in his arm and hand for several months. But he didn't seek medical care—even one night when he developed new symptoms including blurred vision and dizziness. The next morning, Sorbo found himself barely able to speak or walk.
After a trip to the emergency department, doctors diagnosed an aneurysm blocking blood flow to his arm. A procedure was done to correct the rare abnormality—but not before it had caused a serious stroke. After further tests, Sorbo's doctors told him he had previously had a number of minor strokes, called transient ischemic attacks. Thus at age 38—in top physical condition, and without a single risk factor—Sorbo found himself a stroke victim. "'Hercules brought down by an aneurysm…it seemed like a myth," he says .
Sorbo's story calls attention to the rising rate of strokes among previously healthy young people—although most of them have risk factors such as high blood pressure, smoking, or diabetes. From 1995 to 2008, the rate of hospitalizations for stroke among people aged 15 to 44 increased by 37 percent.
'I Was Doing the Best Acting of My Life by Acting Like I Was Healthy'
After his strokes, Sorbo went through some dramatic life changes. He experienced residual symptoms, and his recovery took longer than expected. He also found himself suffering from depression. According to doctors interviewed for the article, post-stroke depression is a common problem, but one that all too often goes unrecognized and untreated.
Meanwhile, Sorbo struggled to get back to the set as Hercules, though on a much-reduced schedule. The studio didn't disclose his strokes to the media, and tried to work around their star's weakened condition. "I was doing the best acting of my life by acting like I was healthy," he says.
Eventually, with the support of his wife, Sorbo began rehabilitation therapy. He feels his illness made him shift his attention from the "material side of life" to the "spiritual side, the unseen." Doctors agree that recovery after stroke can be highly variable. For Sorbo, it was "two years of hell before I began to feel like myself again."
Sorbo hopes that sharing his experiences in his new book will encourage other survivors of stroke or aneurysm to persevere. Today, despite some problems with migraine and vision loss, he has regained his health and his acting career is back in full swing. Sorbo feels his experience has left him with a new outlook on life—and a renewed dedication to his family. He adds, "Everyday my kids show me I can't dwell in the past if I am to appreciate the gift that is the present."
To read this and all the articles in this month's Heart Insight, visit the journal website at www.heartinsight.com, or look for a free copy at your cardiologist's office
An official publication of the American Heart Association (AHA), Heart Insight is the first AHA consumer magazine―for patients, families, and their caregivers―that focuses exclusively on managing and preventing cardiovascular disease and related conditions. Heart Insight offers hope, inspiration, and encouragement by featuring articles about, and by, people who have first-hand experience dealing with cardiovascular conditions, either as patients or as caregivers themselves. Heart Insight is lively and upbeat, providing readers with the most up-to-date, authoritative and practical advice on a wide range of heart-related conditions on a quarterly basis. Heart Insight is available at cardiology offices and in other healthcare settings, as well as free online at www.HeartInsight.com.
About Lippincott Williams & Wilkins
Lippincott Williams & Wilkins (LWW) is a leading international publisher for healthcare professionals and students with nearly 300 periodicals and 1,500 books in more than 100 disciplines publishing under the LWW brand, as well as content-based sites and online corporate and customer services.
LWW is part of Wolters Kluwer Health, a leading global provider of information, business intelligence and point-of-care solutions for the healthcare industry. Wolters Kluwer Health is part of Wolters Kluwer, a market-leading global information services company with 2010 annual revenues of €3.6 billion ($4.7 billion).