July 12th, 2011
10:47 AM ET

Massive stroke: Life shattering, life affirming

In the Human Factor, we profile survivors who have overcome the odds. Confronting a life obstacle - injury, illness or other hardship –- they tapped their inner strength and found resilience they didn’t know they possessed. This week Diana Robb shares the story of her husband's massive stroke and their struggle to keep hope alive.

The morning of January 8, 2004, dawned like any other in our household. Daughter Kelsey headed off to school, I left to run errands, and Kevin, a successful sculptor of large abstract stainless steel and fabricated bronze sculptures, went into his studio to work.

A few hours later, I returned to find Kevin unconscious and unresponsive on the floor of his studio. He was on life support by the time the ambulance left, and he stayed that way for 13 days in intensive care.

Thus began our journey through the life-shattering devastation and life-affirming healing of a massive stroke.

At 49, Kevin harbored no risk factors that would have indicated his body could produce a large clot that would travel to his brain. The shocking occurrence of a massive stroke was just as shocking as his surprising return to the conscious world. He spent seven weeks in rehab hospitals and then made the journey home, paralyzed on the right side of his body and unable to communicate.

After a full month at home with no real progress, we helped him into the studio. I will always remember the way his face lit up as he proceeded to experience a newfound fascination of the tools and metal that had once been his life. For the first time since the stroke, I was given hope.

In the meantime, there was another set of challenges to conquer.

After seeing the way he came alive when he returned to the studio I knew we had to keep the business alive, though I had almost no knowledge of how Kevin ran his operation. My life as a health care administrator and public speaker had come to a screeching halt as I was now a full-time caregiver running a business I didn’t understand. The first six months I was bewildered and overwhelmed, not knowing what would happen.

He has relearned how to walk, to draw with his left hand, and to communicate without words. He has always maintained the familiar smile and sparkle in his eyes. Kevin does all of the design for his mostly monumental sculptures and then directs the welders in every cut, angle, curve, and weld, acting as the maestro.

Since his stroke he has continued to thrive as a sculptor selling his contemporary works through the studio as well as through a number of galleries across the nation.

Included in his post stroke sculpting are: a 30 foot stainless steel sculpture that can be seen from I-5 in San Diego, CA, an 18 foot bronze sculpture for a library in Texas, a 20 foot stainless steel sculpture for the city of Wheat Ridge, CO, a 16 foot sculpture for the McCarran Business Park in Las Vegas, Nevada, as well as winning “Best of Show” at the Sculpture at River Market, an all -culpture juried show in Little Rock, Arkansas.

Kevin’s remarkable recovery is a testament to his drive and determination, two traits that allowed him to develop a successful sculpture career.

Kevin is one of the rare sculptors who found a way to support his family with art. His metal sculptures have been collected by corporations, individual collectors, universities, cities and states; nationally as well as internationally. The year before the stroke he completed a commission for the Borgata Casino and Spa in Atlantic City, New Jersey, a collection of six large stainless steel sculptures.

Some people would consider that he had reached the pinnacle of success with this commission but the fact is that he had already created a thriving sculpture business.

I feel as if this success is a credit to the dedication and teamwork we have developed over our 36 years of marriage. Reflecting on our marriage vows I can honestly say we’ve been through every one of them, the ups and downs. Our journey is that of both daily struggle and triumph as he continues to create beautiful pieces of art.

soundoff (20 Responses)
  1. Jim Cash

    My hats are off to Kevin in his recovery. I too had a severe stroke in Sept of 2010. He reached his goal of getting back to his work which is great. Keep on trucking Kevin. I reached my goal of playing my music again which has helped me. A stroke doesn't necessarily mean the end of the world.

    July 12, 2011 at 14:51 | Report abuse | Reply
    • markglicken

      Sadly many folks spend a lifetime smoking and eating unhealthy nonfoods which contribute to these life threatening conditions. Sadly the healthcare industry is quick to sap our resources and offer false cures.

      July 12, 2011 at 22:48 | Report abuse |
  2. Nana

    Thirteen years ago my husband threw a clot after a quadruple bypass. Blessedly he was in the ICU at that moment and a judicious dose of warfarin busted it up, but not before he was paralyzed on his left side. That it was a right-brain stroke was in some ways fortunate as it left his reasoning side intact. From there he developed an ileus (bowel stoppage) and severe arrhythmia and came close enough to dying that I saw him watching it coming for him–but he survived. We went in at the end of September, 1998 (I say "we" because I almost never left his side–after proving my nerves-of-steel in the ICU, they set me up with a cot as he panicked any time I was too far away) and we left in-patient rehab near the end of October.

    Thirteen years later, he has travelled all over the world–Asia, the Middle East (where nobody hated him) and India–and loved every minute of it. He's gone for months at a time, gallivanting everywhere, making friends, absorbing the world all the intoxication of someone who nearly lost it all. Me, I stay near the grandchild, but we're never far from each other thanks to phones and e-mail and the six months we spend together are all the more precious. We had our 26th anniversary this June.

    A stroke is NOT necessarily the end of life–it may redefine it a little or a lot–but never give up. The first 18 months of recovery are the golden time, but truly, you will recover for the rest of your life, so persist and you will reap the rewards.

    July 12, 2011 at 15:32 | Report abuse | Reply
    • DianeD

      what a wonderfull story. However, I am not sure I grasped the meaning of "Thirteen years later, he has travelled all over the world–Asia, the Middle East (where nobody hated him)..." Does this imply he was "hated" elsewhere because he is a stroke victim???

      July 12, 2011 at 16:00 | Report abuse |
    • Nana

      Nope–nobody hated him because he was an American in the Middle East. Everybody expected him to experience a lot of hate because of his nationality but he was met with kindness and hospitality everywhere he went (Egypt, Jordan and Turkey). 🙂

      July 12, 2011 at 17:07 | Report abuse |
    • Reuben

      Good to see an American experience the real world and how screwed up some images people have of those countries are

      July 12, 2011 at 21:19 | Report abuse |
    • heath


      thank you for sharing this. I want to add that there isn't a 'reasoning' side of the brain, although each hemisphere can generally be presumed to follow certain patterns...just wanted to clear this up for anyone else reading, as it isn't entirely accurate. A stroke on the left side of the brain doesn't necessarily render one without reasoning.

      July 13, 2011 at 13:56 | Report abuse |
  3. Bob and Anne Smith

    Diane and Kevin, great video. Kevin good to see you continuing to design your fabulous sculptures. We think of you often when we look out our window and see your beautiful work.

    Bob and Anne

    July 12, 2011 at 15:50 | Report abuse | Reply
  4. wendy5

    they are rationing at hospitals chemo ect just read the report rationing by 70 percent

    July 12, 2011 at 16:31 | Report abuse | Reply
    • wren

      What report?
      Rationing happens every day. It's done by insurance companies.

      July 12, 2011 at 18:32 | Report abuse |
  5. amylynn

    The European research shows that the best way to prevent stroke is to protect the heart with a diabetes diet. A diabetes diiet in Europe is working for those WITHOUT diabetes to protect the heart and lose weight.


    July 13, 2011 at 08:31 | Report abuse | Reply
  6. DiamondSky

    Life must be appreciated for every ounce and be received by humans with humble thanksgiving to Almighty God.

    July 13, 2011 at 09:06 | Report abuse | Reply
  7. USwatcher

    Rock Alan Rega passed 7/13/2011 @6:48PM to Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ R.I.P.My one and only beloved brother.

    July 13, 2011 at 22:06 | Report abuse | Reply
  8. Ridz

    It is SO encouraging to read your story! I am sitting in the ICU with my dad right now, reading this and you have no idea how much encouragement and hope you have given me. Thanks so much for sharing this.

    July 14, 2011 at 12:03 | Report abuse | Reply
  9. Kathy Erbacher

    Kevin and Diane's story is a tribute to the human spirit. I know them both and can affirm that Kevin was a wonderful sculptor and human being before his stroke, and is an equally wonderful artist and person since. The Robbs are a loving, creative and supportive family. I am proud to know them and so glad that Kevin continues to find joy in his art and family, and shares that art with the world. Kudos to Dr. Gupta for a fine story.

    July 14, 2011 at 13:41 | Report abuse | Reply
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    July 5, 2012 at 00:12 | Report abuse | Reply
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    April 12, 2017 at 04:42 | Report abuse | Reply
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    September 10, 2017 at 21:43 | Report abuse | Reply
  14. Manish

    My Respected Father whose age 75 running, got stroke in Aug-2018. He had BP. Unluckily i was out of town and Paretns were alone at home . Though my town is big name Surat , India. Due to mother illetracy she alone fear to bring them to hospital even not call to any relative but only one friend. It was late . He attacked by stroke at left in brain and right side slowly unable to work. It was happend in evening i back at midnight and go to hospital , Meet doctors and patient too. Know about condition and get that its not good at all and not bad too because we were in Hospital.Also doctor ask us for discharge in 3 days more and then advise also for physotherapy . On the 3rd day a doctor who check my father was on leave for 2 days because someone expire in his family . and the same day Condition of father become bad. May he got other stroke attack. We change hospital to big one hospital because severe condition. Now we are in New Multi speciallity Hospital. But when and doctor even start treatment of father , on 2nd day he got pneumonia. and this pneumonia make his paralyis extend . Doctor focus on pneumonia and less on paralysis so time being paralysis become more strong. after 1 month , we discharge , 5 month passed , father still unable to stand himself without support . Speech not clear and also right hand band from wrist. He tired of adjust that band hand because it comes between every time. when i seat near him and talk to him, he helplessly ask me that "WHY I SAVE HIS LIFE AND NOT DIE HIM " He tired and cry inside.

    January 21, 2019 at 08:15 | Report abuse | Reply

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Get a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends - info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.