NEW YORK (PIX11) — Stroke is the fifth leading cause of death for all Americans and a leading cause of serious longtime disability. Many cases are attributed to heart disease and kills 140,000 Americans a year, which is one out of every 20 deaths. But it is survivable. Cutter Johnston is a living example of that, an inspiration for others in need. His magical elixir for better health is found in three words that are his credo: “don’t give up.” The Brooklyn resident told PIX 11 News, “That’s what keeps me going.”
Johnston suffered a paralyzing stroke 18 months ago and has been engaged in a relentless battle to recover ever since. At 64 years old, Johnston is a familiar figure in his Crown Heights neighborhood where he navigates the streets with the help of a NexStride device that attaches to his cane. It was originally designed for Parkinson’s disease patients, but it has proven to be beneficial for stroke patients who have lost body movement as well.
“It’s helping me to walk again. It’s retraining my brain,” Johnston beamed. He explained that the device shoots a green laser line on the sidewalk as a guide for him to walk. A metronome emits a beat that helps him keep his pace.
Though the stroke has left him debilitated, he hasn’t allowed it to defeat him. Johnston climbs up and down 18 steps every day, he says, to get to his small apartment on the second floor where he lives alone.
“In order for me to get better, it’s up to me,” he said emphatically. “Many people may lift my legs, move my arms, but it’s up to me to make it happen,” he added and finally declared, “I won’t give up, no, I won’t give up. It’s not in my DNA.”
An interior designer by trade, Johnston said he was always athletic and healthy until the stroke — which he described as the 45 seconds that changed his life. He spent six weeks in the hospital where his tenacity to rise about his health crisis kicked in. While he praised the work of nurses who attended him, Johnston said, “They instill fear into you at the hospital. ‘You shouldn’t stand up, can’t stand up, you got to stay in your wheelchair.’ You get tired waiting for a nurse, so I said no, get up in your chair, roll to the bathroom.”
When he’s not working with a physical therapist, Johnston pushes himself to the limit to work out every day. He explained, “It feels better to be productive, to be in the game.”
The stroke survivor said he recognizes that his positive attitude and determination to recover are attributes just as important as the workouts and physical therapy. He insisted, “This stroke is not going to break me. I know even if I pass away, I leave my body, at least I leave my body trying.” And he noted, “I’m clearly not where I want to be. I want to run around the block. That may not happen this week but keep an eye on the prize. Don’t give up, don’t give up.”
When asked what this health crisis has taught him, Johnston was emotional in his response. “It taught me that people care. I actually have people in my life who care about me,” he said.
Johnston lives by the belief once expressed by baseball legend Babe Ruth who once said, “You cannot defeat the person who won’t give up. Johnston is undefeatable in his determination to recover from the stroke that knocked him down. And he’s beginning to recognize that the comeback is stronger than the setback.