In just a few weeks Roswell resident Michael Leitson, a healthy and energetic 22-year-old, will run a half marathon, which might not seem so extraordinary until you realize that less than three years ago he lay in a hospital bed, unsure of his future - or whether he even had one.
After all, what 19-year-old expects to suffer a slow-progressive stroke at such a young age.
On Aug. 16, 2009 Leitson, a student on break from Mercer University, had no idea the lazy summer day spent hanging out watching a movie with a friend would impact his life forever. Looking back, the headache might have been his first clue.
In an online journal about his ordeal, Leitson wrote: "There was something strange about this headache, something different. I remember driving out of the neighborhood trying to figure this out, thinking maybe I had been focused on the television too hard or something. I vividly remember driving along Lower Roswell Road, trying to shake the headache off. It was the weirdest headache I had in my life; it was so hard to describe it. But I was not a complainer, so I shrugged it off."
When the headache had turned into blurred vision and difficulty moving his right arm by the next day, his dad took him to , which ran multiple tests and then sent him down to Emory University Hospital for further testing in their Intensive Care Unit.
Eventually doctors were able to diagnose Leitson's extremely rare condition: it was a cerebral cavernous malformation. The condition, a mis-formation of a blood vessel in utero, is somewhat of a combination between a stroke and an aneurysm.
"I couldn’t believe it," he said. "Before the stroke, I didn’t really know anything about them...they were something that happened to older people."
Once Leitson's condition was stablized it took months of hard work at rehab to recover his life to the point of returning to "normal" in areas such as school and driving.
But he did it.
He eventually graduated from college with a B.S. in Mathmatics and is currently pursuing a masters degree at Kennesaw State University in Applied Statistics, which he eventually wants to use in a career within the public health sector.
If the enormity of the turnaround Leitson has made hasn't yet hit you, pause for a minute: the teenager who lay in a hospital bed immobile, helpless and careening toward a possible loss in brain or bodily function will one day work in the very field that helped him mend. It's an amazing story of recovery that's not lost on Leitson.
"Not too many 22-year olds are around to tell about a stroke that they had when they were a teenager and because of that, I can impact a lot of people and help them become more aware of strokes happening at any age, and more importantly, to always be appreciative of life and to be thankful for every movement that your body has," he said.
Today, Leitson's training for a half-marathon at Riverside Park in Roswell. He recently ran a 10K in Kennesaw and has been working to build up his endurance by running longer distances.
Feeling as if his life and the story of survival and ability to thrive is a gift, Leitson is passionate about inspiring other stroke victims to keep a positive attitude, something studies have shown to be extrememly effective in recovery.
"Don’t limit yourself," he said. "Anything is possible."
Leitson also hopes his journey influences others beyond a cautionary tale of stroke awareness and recovery. He hopes people his own age see him as motivation to pursue their own goals and dreams.
"I like to tell people the following: my entire right side was paralyzed almost three years ago, I had to relearn how to walk again and now I am running a half-marathon. If I can do that, imagine what you can do," he said. "Life is precious. Anyone can impact lives through their experiences. It's only those who actually get out there and share their experiences, who will make an impact."