International Coalition for the Advancement of Neurology (ICAN) TAX ID 20-3616873 is a non-profit [501(c)(3)] corporation registered in the State of California. ICAN's purpose is to bring stroke awareness to everyone. Every 3.1 minutes, someone dies from a stroke! Stroke is the third most frequent killer in the US today. At the age of 49 years Fermin Camarena suffered a massive hemmorhagic Stroke in 2003 that left him a recovering hemiplegic. Hopefully ICAN save another life!
Founder Fermin Camarena's Story
It was five o'clock in the morning Friday, March 21st 2003. Like any ordinary day, I got up to go to work same as every day - early. As I walked outside, I felt a nice breeze off of the ocean. It was another beautiful day in Southern California. I lived in Thousand Oaks, a community north of the mother city, Los Angeles. As luck would have it my job was in Bel Air Crest, one of the richest communities in Los Angeles. I worked for KAR Concrete, a company specializing in foundations. I'd been with my boss Kieth for about 16 years. I've loved construction all my life. It is in my blood. My favorite meal of the day is breakfast. I love to eat - a lot! As with many people on the go, most of my meals were of the fast food variety.
That morning I had a headache. One of the worst headaches I have ever experienced. I mean eye crossing pain. Every time my heart would beat my whole head would hurt. It lasted about one minute. I thought nothing of it and finished my breakfast. I pulled up at the jobsite and unloaded the tools from the company truck. The saying used to be "another day, another dollar". Now my saying is "another day, another $.50 with inflation". The crew used to get ready to start work by first deciding what radio station to tune in to - KLOS, KROQ or POWER106. Before I knew it, it was already 9:30 and time for a short break. When the catering truck arrived I bought 2 OJ's, a big fat tuna sandwich and of course a Hostess snowball. You know the one I'm talking about? Cream in the middle of a small chocolate cake covered with coconut. The white ones are the best!
After the break we went back to work. It's amazing how much we got done in so little time. We are like ants with the help of good music to set our pace. We were getting ready to pour a concrete slab. It was lunchtime, and my friend asked me if I was going to eat. I told him I didn't feel well. I thought the tuna may have been bad. I told him I would just relax and eat my fruit. I knew something was wrong. I took a little catnap. After lunch we went back to work. A short time later I felt something was terribly wrong. I bent over and when I got up, I saw stars - bright colored stars (and I don't mean movie stars). I felt as though I was carrying the weight of the world on my shoulders. I started to walk to my truck, but I felt punch drunk. My equilibrium failed me, I was disoriented and my words were slurred. I didn't know which way was up. I fell to the ground and hit my head.
I heard someone say "Man down!!!". Everybody was hurrying to me. My friend Jay called 911 and brought me over two aspirins. The other workers dragged me to a shady area near my truck. I could hear sirens in the background. The paramedics seemed to get there in a matter of minutes - I mean fast. The firefighters and paramedics were very calm as they tried to get information from me. I had no clue as to what the answers to their questions were. They gave me meds and worked hard getting me ready to transport. Anytime you hear sirens move to the right side of the road. Someone's life depends upon it! Fortunately for me the ambulance took me to UCLA Medical Center. It was just a hop, skip and a jump away. UCLA is one of the best hospitals in the country.
My name is Fermin Camarena. Two days before my 49th birthday I was hit with a massive hemmorhagic stroke or "brain bleed". There are several different types of strokes. The stroke I had is the type where the blood finds the weakest vein. It is just like over inflating a balloon. Too much pressure and something must give. It can be deadly when the affected vein or veins happen to be in the brain. When blood crosses over to the brain it causes contamination and destroys that part of the brain. The doctors drilled holes and put four shunts in my head to take the pressure off my brain allowing the blood to drain out. In your lifetime you only use one third of your brain. That means the other two thirds of your brain usually remain unused. I spent 30 days at UCLA. I was in a coma. I couldn't breathe on my own. I was on a respirator and the doctor inserted a tracheostomy tube. My blood pressure was higher than the price of gas!
After 30 days I was transferred to Rancho Los Amigos National Rehabilitation Center in Downey, California. Rancho is one of the best rehabilitation centers in the world. I was there for about a month - long enough to receive mail! At Rancho, the staff treats everybody the same - with kindness and understanding. The road back would be a hard one.
I had a limited time to re-learn to speak, breathe, eat and walk. I couldn't stay at Rancho forever and I was getting to the end of the line. My therapists were the best anyone could hope for. There was one therapist who stood out. His name is Oscar Gallardo. The first time I met Oscar he asked me, "Do you want to walk?". He said, "I will help you learn to walk again". Another thing about Oscar is he was genuinely caring. I had about two weeks left before I would have to leave Rancho. Oscar convinced the powers that be to approve one more week of therapy. That was the turning point. The extra week gave me enough time to learn how to walk again with the help of a cane.
It's amazing how life can change in a matter of minutes, going from good to starting over once again. The saddest thing about this story is that is should never have happened. I was prescribed high blood pressure medication and neglected to take it. Had I known how serious high blood pressure is and taken my medication to keep it under control, the stroke could have been prevented. I hope you never have to put your family through this. The same thing I put my family through not knowing.
1 Corinthians 10:13 - No temptation has taken you except what is common to man. God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted above what you are able, but will with the temptation also make the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it. Thank you God for a second chance in life. This time I won't let you down.
I want to thank everyone at UCLA Medical Center and Rancho Los Amigos National Rehabilitation Center for going the extra mile for me. That is why I started the INTERNATIONAL COALITION FOR THE ADVANCEMENT OF NEUROLOGY (ICAN), a California nonprofit corporation. I was given a second chance at life. Now it is time to give back and help the many other stroke survivors regain their lives.
I wish you all health, happiness and a long life. If you aim for the moon, you just may hit a star.
"Determined" Fermin Camarena
INTERNATIONAL COALATION FOR THE ADVANCEMENT OF NEUROLOGY (ICAN)