Carlos’s Story

“My life fits in to two distinct time chunks: before I had a massive stroke and after I had a massive stroke.”
Before the massive stroke

I was a bilingual, uber-educated, bi-cultural immigration attorney in high demand. I knew a lot about taxes, international trade and how to become a United States citizen. I did seminars in Caracas for people who wanted to emigrate to the United States then walked them through the process. I spoke and looked the part of the ultimate young success story and I lived that way too. I had the Rolex watches and the Gucci shoes. Once when I was going to a wedding in the Dominican Republic, I took a private plane instead of going on American Airlines with everybody else. I owned expensive everything. I ran the Chicago marathon in 2008, the Miami marathon in 2009 and again in 2014. My ego was my enemy, I was always ‘on.’ I was simply a jerk. I brushed off the mild heart attack I had in 2007, convinced that when I started running and changed my diet that I would never need to think about it again. Looking back, it was a warning sign.

After the massive stroke

In 2012 when I was 37 years old, I remember myself standing up and falling down. Twice. The next thing I remember was being at Mt. Sinai hospital. My right side was paralyzed. I couldn’t understand words or speak. My doctor told me that my overloaded life was the reason for my stroke.

When I first came home from the hospital, I took Xanax for six months, a drug that signals the brain to produce a calming effect. I spent my days fishing and just thinking for eight hours a day. To help regain strength on my right side, I began physical therapy. Slowly, I got stronger although my right side, my dominant side, is still weaker than my left side.

I have come a long way since then. My speech has returned but it’s slower and sometimes I talk in Spanish and think in English. I have made a huge recovery, certainly enough to appreciate and enjoy what is my new life.

That new life now is calmer, slower and does not include practicing law. I have come to terms with the fact that I will never be 100 percent of who I was. It is seven years later and my right side is still a little weak. I don’t feel the hot and the cold the way I do on my left side. I have learned to use my left hand. My doctors encourage my running because this kind of cardio smooths out my heartbeat. I run between 15 and 20 miles a week. I play a lot of golf. I skip swimming and yoga because I cannot put pressure on my neck, the place where the stroke happened.

Some of my disability nuances are things that only I notice. My piano playing is not as crisp as it was because of my weaker right hand, but my love for music and for playing the piano remains.

Cooking is very important to me now and my vegan diet has also helped with my recovery. My skin is clear and it glows. I don’t get heartburn and have no desire to snack or binge eat. I never have stomach problems, never get bloated. I started eating this way two years ago. I love to eat vegan. I spent a lot of time researching how to do it and I constantly read about it. It’s something important that I am totally in charge of.

I must tell you that my arepas are my Venezuelan specialty. Part of my therapy is helping out at a Venezuelan restaurant, EatsGood33. Sometimes I cook, sometimes I am a waiter, whatever is needed. The people there feel like extended family to me. I am very much entrenched in the Venezuelan community. My entire family and lots of friends I knew in Venezuela live here and my family always had a condo in Pompano Beach.

It has been five years since I have visited Venezuela. It would be impossible for me to live there now. You cannot go out at night there because it is too dangerous, people do not have enough food to eat, the electricity goes out, running water is erratic, there are no laws anymore, it is like a jungle. I hope that in my lifetime I can return to the beautiful countryside of Venezuela but I won’t until it is safe. Besides, it’s a comfort to me that my son has a better home living here.

Sometimes I get sad about what I cannot do anymore but mostly I enjoy who I am now. I have learned that being nice to people matters, being humble matters, knowing someone beyond their superficial outside matters. I stay positive. I no longer define myself by my list of accomplishments. I simply introduce myself, ‘Hi, I am Carlos.'”

Carlos’s Arepas

This is my arepa recipe. There are three ingredients: pan pre-cooked white cornmeal, salt, water and a little oil to moisten the skillet. Although the ingredients are simple, the technique is everything. You should be able to make a moist ball that can be formed into pancake-sized one-inch thick discs.

  1. Combine the corn flour, water and salt, mixing thoroughly so that it is moist but firm. I use my hands. Let mixture stand for five minutes.
  2. Form fist size portions then shape into pancakes.
  3. Heat a lightly oiled skillet over medium heat. Cook the arepas in batches until crispy and golden brown on each side. Then bake with parchment paper to avoid any sticking.

Here’s a video of the process.

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