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Stroke survivor to embark on cross-country bike ride to raise awareness

Tech executive Sean Maloney starts 84-day journey March 22

Sean Maloney was a high-flying, 54-year-old Intel executive when, five years ago, a devastating stroke left him without the ability to speak.

Fit, athletic and in seemingly excellent health, Maloney had returned home from running the Stanford Dish on a Sunday afternoon and asked for a glass of water when his son realized something was terribly wrong and dialed 911.

At the hospital, he initially was not able to recognize his wife, Margaret. But while his mental faculties returned quickly, the man who had been considered a potential successor to the helm at Intel — and the company's most compelling public speaker — could not move his right side and was rendered utterly without speech.

"The day after my stroke I could understand perfectly, but I couldn't say anything," Maloney recalled in a recent interview at his Palo Alto home, expressing frustration at the memory. "I'm like a child — I didn't have any speech.

"Before my stroke, for 10 or 20 years, I'd go on TV and talk and it was nothing — and now I had zero. At Intel I had 10,000 people working for me — that was nothing compared to learning to speak again," he said. "Learning to speak is by far the hardest thing I have ever done. I had to learn how to speak out of the right side of my brain because the left side had been busted."

Maloney still speaks slowly — as if choosing his words carefully — but is able to clearly express his thoughts.

Relentless in his discipline and his drive to recover, Maloney learned enough speech to return to Intel, where he'd held a range of senior management posts, in January 2011 — 11 months after his stroke. Later that year Sean and Margaret Maloney and their young daughters moved to Beijing, where Maloney served as chairman of Intel China before leaving the company in 2013.

This month Maloney embarks on what he calls "the second-hardest thing" he has ever attempted: a cross-country bicycle ride where — city by city — he aims to let people know that they should address their risk factors because 80 percent of strokes are considered preventable.

"A lot of people ask me if there's some kind of wisdom or lesson I can give them based upon my experience. Well, there's really only one: Never, ever have a stroke, period. That's basically my big advice in a nutshell," he said. "It sounds like a joke but really, I'm serious."

The recovery

The reasons why some patients make a strong recovery after a stroke while others do not are poorly understood, said Stanford University neurologist Maarten Lansberg, who has worked with Maloney since he was first admitted to the hospital with the stroke.

"We are very interested at Stanford in this question, and we are conducting research why some people, like Sean, have made such a remarkable recovery while other patients are not as fortunate," Lansberg said.

Without definitive answers, the neurologist pointed to qualities in Maloney that could hold clues to his positive outcome: extreme motivation, tireless work, setting ambitious goals and showing flexibility to adjust the goals periodically based on actual progress.

"Sean worked hard with physical, occupational and speech therapy on his recovery, but, in addition to that, he spent many hours each day on his own on his recovery," Lansberg said.

Finally, he noted, Maloney, a longtime competitive rower and fitness enthusiast, had been in good physical health prior to his stroke and resumed intensive physical and aerobic exercise soon after.

"It was incredibly clear to me from the get-go that this guy wanted to make as much of a recovery as was possible for him and that he was going to work as hard as he had to in order to do that," said Lisa Levine Sporer, a Palo Alto speech therapist who joined Maloney's treatment team about a month post-stroke.

Maloney insisted they work together seven days a week, a request Levine Sporer had never heard from a patient. After a month she persuaded him to scale back to five days a week. They drilled and repeated sounds, discussing how to make them come out properly. They practiced over and over in front of a video camera, reciting poetry of Alfred Lord Tennyson that Maloney's mother had read to him as a child.

"We delved very deep because he was capable of being able to say, 'I'm not speaking well today and this is why' or 'help me figure out why,'" Levine Sporer said.

Four months after the stroke Maloney made his first public "appearance" back at Intel by way of a pre-recorded video screened at a corporate conference. The recording session had required dozens of camera takes for his 50-word "I'll be back" message to come out right.

"I must have gone over it a thousand times because I couldn't say it," Maloney recalled. "It was incredibly tough — incredibly tough — but bit by bit I learned to speak again."

Eight months after his stroke, in October 2010, Maloney had physically recovered enough to row in Boston's Head of the Charles Regatta.

"It was good, but it was very, very tiring," he said.

Jean-Pierre van Tiel, who met Maloney through business 15 years ago and bonded with him over their shared passion for rowing, said he "never had a sliver of doubt" his friend would recover.

"Sean applied the discipline and hard work ethic that had made him so successful as a rower and at Intel to this recovery," van Tiel said.

Maloney himself likens the persistence required for his recovery to the discipline of rowing.

"Learning to speak again after the kind of stroke I had requires making a real investment in yourself," he said. "It's frustrating and sometimes you wonder if it's even worth it, but that's where the sense of investment comes in. Rowing is the same way — you're working for some future payoff.

"Now I've learned to speak, but tomorrow is better than today. Every day I get up and it's challenging and every day when I go to sleep I know tomorrow will be better than today. ... So many people don't feel that way; they feel anger with themselves. It's not their fault that they had a stroke. It's OK. And tomorrow is better than today."

The ride

From his hospital bed, Maloney vowed he'd eventually do something to help others avoid what had happened to him. Up to 80 percent of all strokes are preventable if people minimize their risk factors and act on the warning signs, according to the National Stroke Association.

"I've been 40 years a rower, but I can't row across the United States," Maloney said. "So about four months ago I went down to Palo Alto Bicycles and bought a bike. I said 'I'm going to ride across the United States,' and they all laughed.

"They didn't know me — but they do now."

Maloney has recruited a host of friends and high-profile tech executives to ride out of town with him on March 22, the day he departs from Palo Alto City Hall on his "Heart Across America" journey. The public is invited to ride as well. Read Maloney's message: Get an artery scan and pay attention to risk factors, says stroke survivor

In cities along the way, he plans more than a dozen public-awareness events with the American Heart Association and various corporate sponsors, including Intel, Dell, Netronome, Qualcomm and Samsung.

Superbly fit from decades of dawn paddling on the bay, Maloney has applied his characteristic tenacity to learning the techniques of bicycling, enlisting experienced cyclists for help.

On a recent Sunday he cycled to the top of Mt. Hamilton with five seasoned cyclists, including former U.S. Olympic road racer George Mount. The weekend before he'd ascended Mt. Diablo.

"I rowed constantly — it was very easy for me to switch from rowing to cycling," he said.

Among Maloney's new cycling companions is Dave Fisch, who logs 12,000 miles a year on his bicycle, much of it between his home in Pleasanton and his engineering job in San Jose.

Fisch, who years ago crisscrossed Switzerland many times as a bike-tour guide, will take a sabbatical from his job to accompany Maloney across the United States.

"Sean is fearless, he's stubborn and he's strong as an ox," Fisch said. "But it's my job to worry about him.

"I'm not at all worried about him being physically strong enough to do this, but there are a lot of things that can go wrong — saddle sores, your back going out. I ask him after every ride, 'Do your knees hurt? Do your hips hurt?' and he always says 'No.' Finally I accused him of not having any pain receptors," Fisch said.

"The number one thing I tell him is we need to arrive at our destination every day by 3:30 p.m. You start your laundry, then you take a shower and get cleaned up and then you can go eat and have your beer," he said. "If you don't do that, things can start to unravel pretty quickly."

Fisch and Mount are tutoring Maloney on safety techniques for risks like descents, in which a single pebble can throw off even experienced cyclists.

"There's no doubt this can be a dangerous endeavor," Fisch said.

The American Heart Association, a key sponsor of the cross-country ride, largely picked Maloney's route. But Fisch has vetted each segment with cycling communities across the country.

"Little by little we got to a route that I think will work," Fisch said.

As they approach major cities, they're hoping local cyclists will pedal out to escort them into town on the most bike-friendly routes, Fisch said. But, if not, they'll be carrying maps and the navigational devices necessary to go it alone. They'll also have a sag wagon, holding support materials including extra water and medical supplies.

"Sean's a Type A personality," said Fisch, who met him for the first time last fall. "Before I got too involved I asked friends who worked at Intel what Sean was like: Was he a nice guy or the guy who rises up the ranks who's ruthless and all that?

"Everybody said Sean was just great, a good listener, super intelligent, made good decisions. That was reassuring to me," Fisch said "I was curious because I'd only just met him and was going to be spending a lot of time with him."

The Maloneys have hung a map of the United States on their dining-room wall, with pins marking each leg of Sean's 84-day journey. From Palo Alto, the major cities along the way are Los Angeles, San Diego, Phoenix, Albuquerque, Dallas, Austin, Houston, Nashville, Chicago, Pittsburgh, Trenton and New York City.

"Everyone should get a bike," Maloney said. "It's wonderful — the wind rustling in the leaves, the sun. You don't have to do 100 miles. You don't have to be a competitive cyclist. Even if you only do 10 miles every week, that's great."

The main event

Maloney's kick-off event on Sunday, March 22, will run from 10 a.m. to noon and include free blood pressure checks, carotid artery scans by Samsung Ultrasound Systems, heart-healthy food and drink and product giveaways and raffles from corporate sponsors.

Local health and wellness organizations, including Stanford Medicine and No More Broken Hearts, will be represented. Stroke survivors from the Pacific Stroke Association will explain how to spot a stroke.

Other booths will exhibit health-and-wellness wearable technology, including products from corporate sponsors such as Intel, HP, Samsung, Acer and Asus.

At noon, the public will be invited to join Maloney and other cyclists on a casual ride for the first 3 miles of their journey — to the HP campus. From HP Maloney, accompanied by local tech executives and members of cycling clubs, will depart on the first leg of his 84-day journey.

"Now all I have to do is pull into New York," he said.

For more information on Maloney's cross-country ride, including route details, go to heartacrossamerica.org.

Contributing Writer Chris Kenrick can be emailed at ckenrick@paweekly.com.

Comments

10 people like this
Posted by Mark
a resident of Palo Verde
on Mar 13, 2015 at 11:38 am

Good luck, God speed, and may the wind be at your back.

I had a stroke 10 years ago and was 99 % paralyzed when I awoke laying on my back on a gurney looking up and firemen looking down at me and couldn't move for some mysterious reason--no matter what I did--it was like exactly like I awoke in a horror movie and my family, and friends were all drug into it too--by virtue of association with me.

It took one week of struggling to figure out how to move my big toe--staring down at it in bed at Stanford--until I saw a slight twitch. From there after 6 weeks at Stanford in rehab, I went from a wheel chair, to a walker, to a cane, I ultimately learn to walk again albeit it with a foot drop, then I relearned to ride a bike again which was my muse for more than 20 years prior to the stroke. Central pain syndrome set in after two months however and things went from horrible to a nightmare. CPS put me right back in bed again for two years with invisible neuropathic pain which was completely debilitating and no one seemed to understand what and why it h ad happened until diagnosed at Stanford Pain Center. Then I found a pain physician (Bernard Wilcosky in Redwood City) formerly an employee and co-founder-along with the late Dr Elthrington--of the Stanford pain center-- and he put together an ever changing group of medications which ultimately allowed me to resume my physical recovery. Ten years later, I I have switched over to road bike riding and I am now riding a new Trek Bike for the guys at Palo Alto Bikes too, which is again wonderful although still difficult because of "foot drop" weakness on my right side and the CPS--but not impossible--so push, push, push.

One of the things I learned from my recovery is that relentless pushing, way past where I had ever pushed and in a much different way was is, and always will be necessary to achieve small incremental results--the drive that pushed me to get into the Haas Business school at Cal and then to graduate, gain admittance into law school and graduate then into my career and study for the bar exam until I was struck down 26 days before I was scheduled to sit for it by the stroke--was far less than was needed to learn the art of walking again. It is almost laughable that the drive to succeed in my prior life is far less than what I needed to resume my climbing Sanford Stadium's bleachers (RIP), and resume riding my bike again (falling every single ride for months) and ultimately riding up to 20 mile rides in the Bay Lands, then the drive I needed to create a new career multi family housing development and overcoming simple things--what I took for granted prior to the stroke.

Sean is very inspiring and it is really nice to see that kind of life results shown in a public forum; thank you for sharing your story with us Sean.

Mark


Like this comment
Posted by Craig Laughton
a resident of College Terrace
on Mar 13, 2015 at 12:19 pm

Sean,

Please have George and Karl set up a night at the ranch, within the next month...so we can howl at the moon around a campfire (maybe even build a little bit of fence).

Regards,

Craig


5 people like this
Posted by Sea Reddy
a resident of College Terrace
on Mar 13, 2015 at 2:04 pm

Interestingly I want to share my story with this beautiful family.

About four months back on a Saturday evening I ended up at an estate sale on Lowell.

The family and friends were there. Somehow I brought a book called Teenage Manners by Tiffany's from my house.

Margaret reciprocated and told I could take anything on their estate sale.

I did. I have many kitchen items from this family.

One thing I observed is that Margaret is an accomplished lady; from a great heritage from a prominent family.

Sean I think, is blessed to have Margaret near him to take care of him and be with him through this difficult journey .

One day, a few months later, I ran into Pat Gelsinger CEO of VMware and former intei executive.

When I mentioned about Sean and Margaret he attested how wonderful they are and model couple that have handled this problem with dignity and courage.

Rarely, spouses that come by with this high level of strength.

Many break down, as it is very ,difficult for the family.

Margaret and her husband are the exception. Palo Alto should be proud of their great resilience.

I/we pray for this family.

Hang in there. You are an inspiration.

Respectfully


1 person likes this
Posted by Lisa
a resident of Addison School
on Mar 15, 2015 at 12:20 pm

Dear Sean. Wishing you well on your trip. You are truly inspirational. We met many years ago on a flight to Seoul where we thought the landing gear had failed. It was awesome to share that experience and of course a big relief to land safely ( just instrument not working). That experience and meeting you will always be with me. Sending extra strength and good thoughts for your ride and your happiness. Also to your family. All the best Lisa


6 people like this
Posted by No health advice
a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Mar 15, 2015 at 2:20 pm

I didn't find anything in the article about how to avoid having a stroke.
So he's a very accomplished cyclist and a Type A personality. so what? I wouldn't want to have an outsized ego and don't admire those who do. The lavish praise is way overdone.
Bicycling is not suitable for many people. How about some useful information?


8 people like this
Posted by Stop the Trolls
a resident of Mountain View
on Mar 15, 2015 at 2:26 pm

@No health advice (or is it actually Wondering? under a different guise?):
Something tells me you didn't actually *read* the article that you attack. If you had, you would have found this link in the article itself:

Web Link


Like this comment
Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on Mar 15, 2015 at 4:54 pm

@Stop the Trolls (and editor) -- there are currently two versions of this thread. One entitled "Stroke survivor to embark on cross-country bike ride to raise awareness" which has above-noted weblink, and another entitled "The second-hardest thing" which just says "See sidebar" with no link. Comments here get attached to both threads.


1 person likes this
Posted by Matt Cardoza
a resident of another community
on Mar 31, 2015 at 3:04 pm

Sean,
Prayers for protection while you're on the roads. This is an amazing story, and it is very honorable of you to be doing this for such a great cause. One my friends that works at Intel in Folsom just told me about your ride. I am a cyclist myself and a stroke survivor as well. My stroke occurred in December of 2008 during a brain surgery. While the surgeon was working on removing a benign brain tumor from the brain stem area a blood vessel was accidentally severed. I was also a very active person before this and it was my second brain surgery. I awoke from the surgery, unable to move the entire left side of my body, in addition I had vision trouble, cognitive issues, speech problems and I was on a feeding tube for two weeks because I could not swallow. After waking and realizing where I was and what happened, after the original shock I was happy to be alive. My surgery was at Kaiser in Redwood City (down near your way). I was 6 classes short of getting my bachelors degree in Computer Science from Sacramento State (still trying to finish school while recovering from my first surgery 5 years earlier). My wife had to close my computer business (I was self employed). Just last year I Graduated in May and in June I completed my first Century ride since the stroke, "Americas Most Beautiful Bike Ride in Lake Tahoe." I wish I heard about your ride sooner I would have ridden some training rides with you and come along the first several segments if not more. My wife and I are going to be in Austin for a trip April 23rd through 27th of April, we have round trip tickets but it would be great to stretch out that trip and ride with you for a few lengths... I have never shipped a bike so I know nothing about it. Looks like I have some research to do... If you happen to get this note while on the conquest my email is matt@mdccomputersolutions.com

I wish you the best and hope for things as to go as smooth possible.
Just remember as you're riding that there are a lot of people behind you, every time your legs start to burn a little remember how much work it was doing all of the therapy, and look at how far you've come since then :)
Good luck my friend!


3 people like this
Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on Mar 31, 2015 at 6:22 pm

While this thread is momentarily active again, I'll note that the riders appear to be safely south of L.A. The heartacrossamerica site lists their proposed route and schedule, and more informatively shows a map of their last GPS activity. Wonders of modern technology...


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Posted by Matt Cardoza
a resident of another community
on Mar 31, 2015 at 8:45 pm

Thanks @musical, I spent nearly half the day looking at that site, trying to see if we could ship my bike for a reasonable rate, researching rates for changing the return flight home, checking out bike & car rentals... all options have been exhausted, my wife and I cannot afford the extra costs. She has stayed by my side from day one when I initially had my stroke nearly a year after we were married, so I gotta do my best to keep her happy. Lol :) Again best of luck on your journey Sean. If you do the ride next year maybe I could start with you in SF.


Like this comment
Posted by Sea Reddy
a resident of College Terrace
on Apr 13, 2015 at 1:35 pm

I am so sorry to hear about this accident.

It happens to many, but to have this happen to this beautiful family is just unbelievable.

My prayers are with the family, specially Margaret and the children and Sean for fast recovery.

Respectfully


2 people like this
Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on Apr 13, 2015 at 8:11 pm

@Sea, some info or link would have been considerate in your last comment.

Web Link

On Easter Sunday outside of San Diego Sean Maloney hit a bump on a descending section of roadway, broke a few bones, and got airlifted to a hospital. After making sure Sean was in good hands and recovering, David Fisch and Don Brennen are continuing the fundraising ride across the country.

I haven't seen any follow-up yet in local media here.


Like this comment
Posted by Route66aJourney
a resident of Mountain View
on Apr 18, 2015 at 5:10 pm

If it's the same as ~10 years ago, that bit of highway is very rough with many ridged sections in the shoulder. Very jarring. It is the correct bike route, as used by RAAM and PacTour.

Broken bones will heal. Cycling is still great rehabilitation, especially for brain injuries. What good for the heart is good for the brain as well. Hope he is back on the bike soon.


3 people like this
Posted by rose gooch
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jun 11, 2015 at 3:26 pm

Congratulations, Sean!!!
No two people recover the same way, regardless of their drive and motivation. There is spontaneous recovery which many people take credit for themselves. Then there are people who work as hard as they can and remain in one place, like Alice in Wonderland. Not to diminish Sean in any way, but to give credit to all of the folks who have had strokes and still have deficits, we salute you. It is not you, dear friend, it is the universe.


Like this comment
Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on Jun 11, 2015 at 6:40 pm

Schedule has the ride finishing this Sunday, with a 14-mile stretch across the George Washington Bridge and down the Hudson's edge to Midtown Manhattan.


Like this comment
Posted by Thanks & ISO more info
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 17, 2015 at 9:50 pm

Ok. Had TIAs, had scan showing stenosis. I'm aware, now what? Because of my age (TIAs in 40s), no one is taking this seriously except MD friends. The awareness isn't enough. No one except me seems interested in knowing what has happened to my carotids since despite some recurrences of symptoms. (Got my blood pressure under control but it still spikes unusually high with vigorous exercise.)

Where do we go for a preventive approach medically?

Congratulations on this feat to Sean. Wow is all I can say.


Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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