Meet Jonny | Stroke Survivor

Throughout my two+ years of blogging, I’ve shared bits and pieces of my life with my marvelous husband Jonny who is an inspiration to so many people. However, there’s a big part of his life that’s not been told on Itz Linz. It certainly doesn’t define him, but it has played a role in shaping who he is today.  Meet Jonny:

jonny stroke survivor

My name is Jonny Itzkowitz, and not only am I Linz’s dashingly good-looking husband, I am a stroke survivor. Here’s my story:

How nice it is to be a winner.  I should know.  As soon as I learned to play a sport, I wanted to be the best, as well as help my teams win.  Baseball has always been my favorite sport. By the age of twelve, I was playing on the top team in my area, hitting in the three-hole. I can count on one hand the number of losses my teams ever had. As a freshman in high school, I was inserted into my usual three-hole on varsity.  I am certain the senior on the team whose spot I took was not pleased.  It did not matter because the coach knew that the passion I played the game with is how he wanted the entire team to play.

By the time I was a senior, I was named captain of the varsity team for baseball, football, and racquetball.  Upon the completion of my high school athletic career, my teams had won numerous conference titles.  In addition to the team accomplishments, I had racked up many all-conference/state team appearances for all three sports while also setting nine records in baseball.  Needless to say, always persevere by setting goals to be the best you can be.

jonny

little league baseball and varsity football

After high school, I decided to take my talent to South Beach (a few years before Lebron James ever declared his intentions to do the same) at the University of Miami aka “The U.”  The only difference was that I was trying to play baseball at The U.  My thinking was simple: either make it with best or have the ultimate college experience and graduate from a top university.  As it turned out, I was not as talented or genetically gifted as other students my age from around the country when it came to playing college baseball and I was not able to merely walk-on to The U’s baseball team.  This led to me joining a fraternity and become the king of the average Joe’s on the intramural field.

Whether it was flag football, inner tube water polo, or any sport in between, I competed for my fraternity and we won.  This was the time I realized I had to work harder to compete with individuals that had comparable or better athletic talent than me, so I could continue to win and be the most valuable to my teams. Little did I know that this realization would be the component in overcoming a life changing incident that led to a dangerous weight gain.

jonny bball

Can you find Jonny? Fourth from the left, top row.

Despite being in the best physical shape of my life, I suffered a massive stroke March 28, 2004 during my junior year of college at the age of twenty-one. I was walking to the gym when I fell and literally couldn’t get up.  I was hospitalized for eight weeks and was ultimately left with partial paralysis to my left arm and a weak left ankle.  My career and athletic goals paled in comparison to re-learning to walk and function normally again.  At the beginning of my recovery, the entire left side of my body just didn’t work. I had no control of my muscles; I couldn’t feel anything on the left side.

First, I had to learn to sit up in my hospital bed. It seems as though it’d be simple, but it wasn’t. I had to exercise my face muscles in order to look “normal,” and to be able to smile again. Once I was able to put weight through my legs, I went through rehabilitation to learn how to walk and strengthen the muscles that were affected.  I started on a therapy treadmill at just 0.1 miles per hour (now I’m able to maintain a speed of 3.2).  Intense daily rehab included speech therapy, physical therapy, and occupational therapy.

jonny

Daily exercise is so important to my everyday, healthy life.

I have worked relentlessly for ten years, and I am proud to say, I have regained physical and cognitive functions.  I still have partial paralysis to my left side and a weak left ankle, but I am able to live a very independent and fulfilling life. I have learned strategies and techniques to compensate for my weak left side.  As a result, my right side is incredibly strong as I’ve had to learn to do everyday tasks one-handed.  Have you ever tried to button a shirt with only one hand? How about crack a peanut shell? Go ahead and give it a try.  What about tie your shoes? If you figure out that one, let me know; for now, I just replace laces with Velcro.  Daily life didn’t always seem so easy directly following my stroke.

For a few years right after my stroke, I became lazy, complacent, and turned to food to replace the sports I could no longer play. After first settling for the cards I had been dealt, my weighted ballooned to 265 pounds and, on my 5’10” frame, I failed to realize what I was doing to myself.  It was not until a person very close to me asked if I wanted to be as “big as a house?”  This turned my life back around and I began channeling all my athletic ability into walking.  Whether it is on the treadmill or outside, this was the first athletic activity I could still do and continue to get better at.  When I first started my walking regimen, I would walk twice a day, workout with a trainer at the gym, and seriously cleaned up my eating habits.

My weight dropped to 175 pounds and I felt more confident as I regained my life again.  I continue the good habits today so I am able to lead a healthy, active life. I walk for forty-five minutes almost seven days a week (taking rest days when necessary). I workout with a trainer at the gym who supports my left side; this has helped so my left side muscles don’t atrophy and I’ve been able to maintain my muscular build. A trainer comes to my house once a week to help me strengthen my core.  I eat mostly good foods as proper nutrition is an important piece to the puzzle.

jonny tennis1

After ten years, I have found other athletics I can do to help fulfill the void of sports in my life that allowed me to lose ninety pounds and allow me to live my life at a healthy weight. I still set goals to accomplish that allow me to be the athlete and person I always wanted to be.  I graduated from Miami with a bachelor’s degree in Communication Studies and Psychology, and later earned my master’s degree in Rehabilitation Counseling from Maryville University in St. Louis. I currently work at a job I love, helping and inspiring others to live their lives the best they can.

jonny1

My perspective on life and my ability to overcome obstacles was never stronger after experiencing the most traumatic event and difficult rehabilitation of my life.  I know I will continue to face challenges throughout my life, but like everything else, I will find a way to succeed.  Through my hard work and perseverance, I have inspired myself and others to achieve so much, even when it’s difficult to see the light at the end of the tunnel.

What’s the biggest obstacle you have overcome in your life? How did you persevere?

60 thoughts on “Meet Jonny | Stroke Survivor

  1. A stroke at 21! This is incredible, wow. You truly are an inspiration Jonny because so many people would have just given up, but you persevered and now you have a beautiful baby on the way, and a stunningly scrumptious wife! 🙂

    I have had a lot of hard struggles to over come as well, but with the right support system and mindset, overcoming these things are very doable – we are prime examples!

  2. Wow, just wow! Thank you so much for sharing your story with all of us, Jonny. To hear how far you’ve come and how many obstacles you had to face & get through, you are one awesome and inspiring man. You & Linz are so lucky to have one another.

  3. First, I love hearing from husbands and I’m so glad you had Johnny come on. Second, what an incredible inspiration! My dad is currently dealing with partial paralysis of his right arm after nerve damage (still no real idea how that happened). He is unable to do everything Johnny was talking about, and I just can’t imagine dealing with it on my own. My dad is definitely working hard just like Johnny does! I am still really shocked that it happened at the age of 21. Do they know how it happened? When did you meet Johnny? Was this something you knew had happened before meeting him, or did you fall in love first 🙂

  4. Wow that’s amazing! I am so inspired and awed at your courage and strength! My dad had a small stroke when he was in his 20s, but nothing compared to what you endured! Biggest obstacle I had to overcome was my own grief after my father passed. I had to ‘find myself’ so I could get back to myself again.

  5. Jonny-I’ve never commented on a blog before-but your story is truly inspiring, thank you for sharing it. Have you been practicing one-handed diaper changes? It won’t be long now!

  6. Life can throw scary things at you at any moment, but it’s all about how you handle them and keep moving forward. Jonny – you are so inspiring. Linz, you are so blessed to have a husband like him. This is an amazing story, and I am so glad you shared it.

  7. You definitely are super athletic (I remember in HS)! You’re very inspiring, and I appreciate your sharing your story with us!!

    You and Linz make such an incredible couple, and your little boy is one lucky dude!!! <3

  8. Wow, what an incredible story! I think the thing that stood out the most to me was the fact that you could have easily given up, thrown in the towel, but you did NOT. You kept fighting and persevering despite how difficult it was. That is truly inspiring and a lesson to us all. Thank you for sharing your story Jonny!

  9. Your story is so inspiring! I’ve never under-estimated the power of really WANTING something and WORKING HARD to get it. I have a feeling you have A LOT more GREAT things ahead of you 😉

  10. Linz – this post is AWESOME! Jonny’s story is amazing… so inspirational and a great reminder to live in the moment and also that hard work/dedication can really pay off. I can’t wait to see him with baby itz, maybe coaching a baseball team one day 😉 Love, Dana

  11. love that you had jonny on the blog! he has such a great story of triumph! i love you two together and cant wait to see you soon! it wont be long until the lil man will be here too! love you lots!

  12. Wow! Did you ever find out why you had a stroke so young? My most difficult challenge is anxiety and depression. A struggle that I’m currently trying to take charge of. Thanks for sharing your story. Best of luck.

  13. What an amazing story!! I love that Jonny was able to turn his life around and, like he said, learn to play the cards he was dealt. Such a positive attitude!!!

  14. wow wow wow wow wow wow wow. i just. i just can’t get over this! i just wanna hug jonny! hahahaha. seriously though 🙂 thanks for sharing this absolutely inspiring and moving story jonny. i am so proud of you <3 please know that

  15. Just came across this story by chance. WOW! How inspiring. Not sure if you remember me but I was your 8th grade science teacher. This just adds to the great memories I have of you. Thanks for sharing your story.

  16. I remember your stroke like it was yesterday. Congratulations on making the recovery that you did Jon. You are an inspiration to many.

    Mike

  17. I remember Linz saying how much you inspired her through your perseverance, and now I know why!
    Four years ago as a competitive rider I sustained serious spinal injuries (cervical and lumbar) from an equestrian-related accident, along with post-concussion syndrome. A year and half into my recovery I was in a serious car accident, which compounded and added to my injuries.
    I went the opposite way that you did, and developed full-blown anorexia nervosa.
    It is due to my faith and role models like you that I was able to push through and recover (from both my physical and mental obstacles), as well as thrive academically.
    I am now eighteen and gearing up for university (Baylor).
    Thank you for sharing such a personal, inspiring experience. It is such a blessing, so exciting (and refreshing!) to see individuals strive for recovery and true quality of life!

  18. Thank you for sharing your unbelievable story. As a Physical Therapist I love working with athletes and helping them get back to the place in life they aspire to reach & some of my favorites were stroke victims. I am always moved when I hear someone tell such an inspiring story and am so glad to hear how hard you have continued to work outside of PT.

    Isn’t it amazing how hard it is to learn how to walk, yet we expect our babies to walk at a year?!

  19. What a story! It sounds like he is attacking the situation just like he did on the field and that is so inspiring. My aunt had a severe stroke and wasn’t able to recover as much as we had hoped. So good to hear that he’s able to get past all the struggles!

  20. Oh my goodness! What an incredible man Johnny is to overcome such a huge obstacle. Do they know why you had a stroke at such a young age? Thank you for sharing your story Johnny! I can see that you are not a man who gives up easily-your strength and courage are inspiring.

  21. Hi! I tried to get on yesterday to respond but this is first chance I am having! What an amazing story. In 2010 my brother in law lost his entire arm in a car accident that should have left him dead.. it been just about 4 years but I have watched him do everything with one arm– including golfing.. something he thought he would never do. Your story is amazing an the power of the mind is amazing!! Way to overcome all that you did!

  22. Will power, resilience, strength and perseverance…perseverance…perseverance.
    Inspiring true story for all. Good for you Jonny!….

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  25. Wow, absolutely amazing story!! Linz, you are lucky to have a husband who is so strong and determined, many people would have given up with a “why me” attitude. And Johnny, how lucky are you to be living the wonderful life with your beautiful wife and a baby on the way?! Thank you so much for sharing your story — inspiring and beautiful!

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