Before he had a stroke that paralyzed his left side, extreme skier and successful business owner Mark French didn’t realize that his diagnosis of atrial fibrillation — an irregular heartbeat — increased his stroke risk up to five times.

Steep learning curve

“I couldn’t believe how little I knew about stroke,” he said. “I consider myself a pretty savvy, well-read person, but I had no idea what the risk indicators were.”

He found out April 29, 2015. Getting into his car after a client meeting, he felt an “electric current” in his left arm. He made his way home, where his family recognized that something wasn’t right and called 911.

French had an ischemic stroke, which is a clot blocking blood flow to the brain, then a brain hemorrhage. Paralyzed on his left side, he was told he had about a one percent chance of ever walking again.

Defying doctors’ predictions, French walks normally, has resumed traveling and is even back on the ski slopes. But he has had to adapt to life changes — and he hopes education and the promise of research will provide more answers for others.

Spreading awareness

In people with AFib, or atrial fibrillation, a condition that affects millions of Americans, the heart’s two small upper chambers (atria) don’t beat the way they should. Instead, they beat irregularly and too fast, and quiver. If your heart doesn’t pump properly, your body doesn’t get the oxygen and food it needs.

AFib can increase risk of blood clots, stroke and heart problems. Sometimes AFib doesn’t have symptoms and it’s hard to detect with short-term monitoring, so it’s also a known risk factor for cryptogenic strokes. These stroke have no known cause.

AFib symptoms can include irregular and rapid heartbeat, dizziness and tiring more easily when exercising. Medications and other treatment options can help manage the condition and help prevent a stroke or other problems.