Glass Tiger's Alan Frew calls recent stroke 'a wakeup call'
An estimated 50,000 people suffer strokes in Canada each year. In August, Juno Award-winning singer-songwriter Alan Frew joined their ranks.
Now, the lead singer of the iconic Canadian synth-pop band Glass Tiger is on the road to recovery, but he wants to help others avoid similar struggles.
Frew's health challenge began one night last month, when he went to sleep after wrapping up production on a new album, which included gruelling, 10-hour days. The next morning he awoke with the symptoms of a stroke.
"My arm was really heavy, my leg was heavy and I just knew something wasn't right," Frew recalled in an interview with CTV News.
Despite Frew’s sudden weakness, the 58-year-old insisted on maintaining his plans for the day.
"I did the sort of macho thing,” Frew said. “I was scheduled to go golfing with my son, so I got my golf gear on.”
After his symptoms worsened on the golf course, Frew went to hospital.
There, doctors discovered that he had suffered a stroke in his sleep.
"I was looking at (my arm) and I couldn't move it," Frew recalled.
Since Frew suffered his stroke while asleep, he wasn’t a candidate for the standard stroke treatment of a “clot-busting” drug known as tPA, which must be administered within 4.5 hours after symptoms begin.
In the first 48 hours after the stroke, Frew struggled to perform everyday tasks such as getting up to go to the bathroom.
"It was a disaster and I just felt like my life was over," Frew said.
Frew had been diagnosed with hypertension and high cholesterol two years earlier, and his doctor prescribed him drugs to treat the conditions.
But after losing weight from a training regimen that included swimming, the singer said he felt so good, he stopped taking his prescriptions. Looking back, Frew said that was a "mistake.”
"I wouldn't have had this stroke if I stayed on my medication.”
Now, Frew is in rehab to regain motion on the right side of his body – in his leg, arm and hand in particular.
"It takes a lot of effort to get my brain to identify what I want my hand to do," he said.
He’s also using his star power -- generated from hits such as "Don't Forget Me," "Someday," "I'm Still Searching," and the 2010 Vancouver Olympic anthem "I Believe" -- to help others avoid a similar fate.
Part of that has involved Frew sharing his struggles on social media. On Instagram, Frew is seen in photos walking with a cane. In another post, he talks about how swimming is helping him recover.
"Thousands of people have written to me, that they know they are hypertensive and haven't done anything about it," Frew said. "Many of them are saying it's a wakeup call to see me like this."
Dr. Rick Swartz, a neurologist at Toronto's Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre, said Frew's outreach efforts could change the way some people think about strokes, and open people's eyes to the possible warning signs.
Symptoms of a stroke to watch for include a drooping face, sudden numbness of the arm or leg, sudden confusion or slurred and jumbled speech, difficulty seeing in one or both eyes, sudden dizziness or loss of balance and coordination, and a sudden severe headache with no known cause.
"These are the kinds of stories that have that instant impact," said Swartz, who is also a spokesperson for the Heart and Stroke Foundation.
Frew -- who is now back on medication for blood pressure and cholesterol -- hopes to be healthy for the release of his new album and wants to be back on stage before Christmas.
With files from CTV's medical specialist Avis Favaro and producer Elizabeth St. Philip
And so the #fight continues : tough day today but good, #tough because it's frikkin hard good because I continue to improve. I have begun swimming again and as I mentioned my #stroke ain't pretty but it's prettier than the one that put me here. I began outpatient therapy today both Occupational & Physio and I will do that twice per week. When you have a stroke your driver's licence sort of goes on #hold not that I am up for driving just yet but I will discuss this with my neurologist on the 21st. All in all gang? I am doing great. I cannot complain. I played the new #CD tonight and tried singing along. I can #hear that voice in there it's just gonna take time to set it free. #peace & #love Alan
So this is it. I go home today. I go home a changed man. I am a #stroke survivor like it or not. That can never change. I have my meds have my cane and out I go from the safety of my cozy "push the button for help" room to the big nasty opened spaced "get out of my fucking way" world. It's scary I must admit . Even my home with my dog trying to devour me with love to my cats getting under my feet are thoughts filled with trepidation and fear. Two weeks ago today however I woke up on a stroke floor with no movement in my arm or leg and today I walk out of here cautiously but on my own two feet with the help of a cane so I am not complaining. I listened to the final mixes of the new CD last night and they are nothing short of wonderful. I got emotional because I heard my voice giving EVERYTHING it had. I knew I left EVERYTHING on that studio floor that I could possibly give then I went to bed and awakened as a stroke victim and I cried. The quest now is to be THAT singer. That is my goal. From here to the stage the stage where YOU live...that is my goal. A thousand mile journey truly does begin with just "ONE STEP." I am about to prove that to you.#stroke #survivor #warrior