Konrad Strawn’s life is marked by two types of rehabilitation, each followed by — some would say —miraculous recovery.
“Life with him has always been a struggle,” says Deena Reed, Strawn’s mother. He was suicidal in high school. The situation was so acute, remembers Reed, that “his principal was just telling us ‘take everything away from him; just leave him a bed and a desk to do his school work.’”
Strawn stopped going to school and got into drugs, and his parents kicked him out. By the time he was 16-years-old, Strawn had fallen into drug addiction and was eventually convicted of a felony.
But, by 2012, things were looking up. He got clean and earned his GED. His son Aidan turned four. And he was about to get his one-year sobriety coin. Suddenly, there was a “strange, unexpected event,” says Strawn.
Strawn suffered an arteriovenous malformation (AVM), which ruptured in February of 2012. AVMs occur in 1 percent of the population and mostly strike people 25-45-years-old. It was a catastrophic event, but Strawn refers to that event and everything that has happened afterward as “a blessing, a miracle.”
Surviving (and Recovering) from an AVM
Alone with his son at the time of the event, it was a miracle, recalls Strawn, that his own father came to rush him to the hospital when he did. “I got saved,” says Strawn. Half of all people who suffer an AVM do not survive, and the other half “can’t talk or walk,” according to Strawn. Strawn sees it as a miracle that, while the statistics are not good for AVMs, he drew the lucky straw.
Strawn was under heavy sedation for 17 days. After the stroke, he lost all his words and could not walk or care for himself in any way, and much of his memory was lost. He lost vision on his right side. In the last several years, however, he’s been fighting his way back and has made substantial progress.
Strawn had to learn words all over again. He recalls walking to the mailbox, and his sister Roxann asked him, “What’s that?” He didn’t know. She would explain it was a mailbox, but a few minutes later when she asked the question again, he would not know the answer. He did eventually regain his vocabulary and he began to read as well. At first he drove his father crazy, reading the same Dr. Seuss book repeatedly. At this point he progressed to serious non-fiction. He carries a book with him everywhere he goes.
Movement also had to be recovered, but he kept walking to regain his mobility. “I kept slipping and slipping and hurting myself,” remembers Strawn. He still walks with a significant limp, but moves well enough to keep several volunteer jobs.
Volunteering in the Community
“When I started at Share Homestead, I couldn’t even understand what they were saying,” Strawn recalls. Reed remembers her son saying, “You know, Mom, when they told me I had to tell people, ‘I don’t understand.’ I didn’t understand that.”
“The first season I could hardly do anything,” recalls Strawn, but now he is a kitchen assistant. And in the summer he volunteers for the Summer Meals Program. “I feel joyful feeding the hungry kids,” he reports. He is very sensitive to the possibility that the children might not otherwise get food.
He also volunteers at Habitat for Humanity, though he sometimes has to ask the name of a tool.
In addition to all the volunteering, he fills his week with working out at the Marshall Community Center, spending lots of time on the stationary bike and stretching. He takes classes ranging from Tai Chi to “Total Body Blast.” His program is suggested by the Brain Injury Rehabilitation Center in Oregon.
Drug Use and Bad Days Before AVM
Strawn recalls the bad days before the AVM. “I was defiant, I was wild. I felt so ugly. I started trying drugs.” Eventually, he says, he tried “every single drug,” with heroin being his favorite, and his worst.
He had to get off the Suboxone next. He chose to withdraw from that. “My heart was pacing and pacing,” he said about when he did not have the medication. He recalls “it was very uncomfortable for a month or so.”
He started attending his mother’s church classes. He had even led a group in prayer. Konrad recalls his mother telling him that “the people were tingling” with his talk. “I used to be eloquent,” Strawn said — “an awesome talker.”
Overcoming and Thriving after an AVM
He’s overcome a lot. He still starts each morning with prayer, meditation and journaling. He works hard at his rehabilitation and at his volunteer jobs. He enjoys his son. There is one thing he wants more than anything. “I’ll never give up, but I just want to find some sort of part-time job.” He says he has sent out 300 applications and attended 30 interviews.
In June 2018, getting a job became much more possible because his criminal background was vacated. His record had prevented him from turning some of his volunteer work into paid work.
Reed says of the journey, “He’s not the same person, that is for sure,” but there are similarities. “He was always a good-natured person.” While at times she has been frustrated with the pace of Konrad’s progress, she notes, “there are little miracles every day.”
Strawn is optimistic and realistic. “There are so many possible things. It’s just one day at a time.”