With so many successful treatments and therapies now available, most of us have a surviving stroke victim in our circle of family and friends. What was once considered a debilitating and non-recoverable event is now seen as a difficult challenge, but one that can be overcome with hard work, even for those of an advanced age.
And so it has been for Robert Swain, a founding member of King Street Bluegrass who perform regularly in the Washington, DC area. A Labor Department lawyer by day and a banjo player and drummer on evenings and weekends, Robert experienced what are taught as the early signs of a stroke in November of 2014, and though he found himself unable to speak or respond verbally, was able to get himself to an emergency room where treatment began immediately.
The medical team discovered a blood clot in his brain, and were able to dislodge it by running a device through his artery into the brain. Swain is sure that this procedure is what prevented him from being completely incapacitated, though he was left with significant impairment in his speech, and little use of his right side. He was able to move the fingers on his right hand a bit, but wasn’t sure if he would ever play again.
His bandmates in King Street Bluegrass, including his long time companion, bass player Nancy Lisi, never let him think that he was out of the group. They were regular visitors while Robert was hospitalized, cheering him up and egging him on, going so far as to run a conga line through the ICU during one visitation. As soon as he was released, they brought him out to their shows so that he could sing his baritone parts, though Keith Arneson stepped in to play banjo for the most part. King Street was determined to both see him recover, and have the band survive his absence.
Other friends pitched in as well. Capital Area Bluegrass and Old-Time Music Association donated a special stroke recovery bed for Swain to use, and helped out with chores around the house.
It took a great deal of work, but Robert was able to drive again by 2017, and was back behind the drums with the Surf Jaguars as well. Banjo is coming along more slowly, but considering the worst case scenario, he feels himself a lucky man. After a lifetime of smoking, doctors said that his high blood pressure made him a likely stroke victim. Check that pressure, folks!
Now this winter, King Street Bluegrass has a new album, which they have titled Stroke of Luck, in honor of Robert’s ordeal. The banjo is handled by new member, Rob Waller, but he sings on several songs and continues to be a part of the group.
The album represents their take on a number of classic bluegrass numbers. Robert still shows a bit of slurring in his speech, but as you can see in this recent video, his singing sounds just fine.
Stroke of Luck is available wherever you stream or download music online, and at any of their live performances.
Well done, Robert!