Overcoming Stroke: Bubba Callaway

Patient Experience

May 5, 2016

Bubba was watching TV before heading into work as a truck driver. He was sitting at his computer desk when the right side of his body “went to sleep.” He called out to his mom Elaine. Before she could even call 911, Bubba went blind. By the time the ambulance arrived, he was completely paralyzed.

Bubba had a brain bleed, also referred to as a hemorrhagic stroke. The blood accumulated in an area that controls vision, which caused his blindness. Neurologists were hopeful that the bleed could be controlled without surgery, so they began medication to clot his blood.

Waking Up

For the next several days, Bubba was monitored around the clock. A nurse was on one side of his bed in the critical care unit and Bubba’s mom Elaine was on the other side.  Bubba had been caring for his mom prior to his stroke, but now their roles were reversed. Elaine was constantly by his side. The only time she would allow herself to go home and rest was when one of his family members agreed to stay with him. His sister or one of his six children took turns sitting by his side.

He attributes the medication, monitoring and tremendous family support for his improvements. As days passed and Bubba was no longer in critical condition, he was transferred to a rehabilitation facility near family. He still had some paralysis of his right leg and a little in his right arm. As the bleeding subsided, Bubba’s sight slowly returned. He spent four weeks in rehabilitation and could walk with a walker when he left.

Getting Well

Soon after Bubba returned home, a friend called to tell him about a Stroke Wellness program at the YMCA. Bubba weighed 416 pounds at the time of his stroke. He knew that was a huge contributing factor and vowed to lead a healthier lifestyle. From the moment he joined Stroke Wellness, he felt like he belonged. He participated in the program three afternoons each week and would come early or stay late to swim or continue exercising. In total, he lost 140 pounds!

On one of those afternoons, Alice Krauss, Manager of the Brooks Adaptive Sports & Recreation Program (ASRP) gave a presentation to the Stroke Wellness participants. She shared information on the many activities available to stroke survivors through the ASRP. “I remember watching a video where everyone was in a wheelchair, so I thought the program wasn’t for me,” said Bubba.

As coincidence would have it, Bubba’s nephew, Wes Johnson, was a participant in the ASRP. He assured Bubba that the program was open to anyone with a physical disability. He persuaded Bubba to join the group for archery the following Monday. There, Bubba met another participant who persuaded him to try cycling.

“The next thing you know, I’m doing about every activity Brooks offered. And if I wasn’t participating, then I was volunteering. As I recovered, I tried to help others,” said Bubba.

Moving Forward & Moving Others

The desire to give back and help others led to a permanent staff position for Bubba at Brooks. He heard that the ASRP purchased a bus to help individuals who couldn’t regularly attend events due to transportation issues. Bubba was so excited that he immediately applied for the bus driver position. He was the obvious choice for the job.

It took a little time to get the word out to ASRP members that free transportation was available. But now, Bubba travels hundreds of miles each week on what is affectionately known as the “Bubba Bus.” He provides so much more than transportation. Bubba cares for every single person that he drives. They’ve become his extended family.

He fondly recalls one of his first passengers, Devin Storey, who didn’t interact with anyone when he started riding the bus. Devin is unable to speak, so Bubba tried to make him feel welcome and learned a bit of sign language. As Devin began to trust Bubba and others, he opened up. Now he engages with everyone he meets.

Bubba recently celebrated his one-year anniversary doing a job he loves. The “Bubba Bus” has become so popular that the first person Bubba picks up may be on the bus for several hours as he picks up new riders along the way. However, there isn’t a single complaint as riders play games, sing songs and enjoy each other’s company.

“I do this for them. If I won the lottery tomorrow, I’d be back here the very next day. I help them with their lives and they help me with mine. No one has to thank me. You can just see the gratitude on their faces. This is way more than a job for me. The passion runs deep. When I needed help, there were people there for me. Now it’s my turn to give back as a way to show gratitude for the second chance I’ve been given,” said Bubba with tears in his eyes.

We are proud to honor Bubba as one of our 2016 Faces of Stroke for his courageous journey to recovery and the commitment he has towards helping others.


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