In 1996, 22-year-old Joe Oppold had the world by the tail. He'd just graduated from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point and was at home in Waterloo, Iowa, preparing to set off and make his mark. Two weeks later, however, Joe began experiencing an increasingly severe headache. "It was very, very painful," he tells us.
Joe initially tried to sleep away the pain. "But it was so intense that I just couldn't sleep," he tells us. His mother drove him to their local Emergency Department, where doctors suspected Joe had a cerebral aneurysm. Doctors told his mother that, given the circumstances, Joe's best hope would be to get treatment elsewhere. "They didn't have the neurological equipment and capabilities that a place like Mayo Clinic has," Joe tells us. Moments later, Joe was put in an ambulance and driven to Mayo Clinic’s Rochester campus, where neurosurgeon David Piepgras, M.D., and his surgical team were waiting.
After confirming Joe's diagnosis, Dr. Piepgras and team spent the next 16-plus hours trying to surgically repair the aneurysm. It was a high-risk procedure. "I knew in my heart that the risks for major stroke, possibly even fatal stroke, with such an operation were relatively high," Dr. Piepgras tells us, "but at that time in 1996, there were no other treatment options."
Part-way through the operation, Dr. Piepgras' worst fears materialized. Joe's aneurysm suddenly ruptured, causing a massive stroke that would leave Joe paralyzed on the right side of his body and unable to speak.
Although Dr. Piepgras was able to bring him out of surgery alive, Joe was told it was unlikely he'd ever walk or talk again. Joe, however, refused to accept that prognosis. And with the help of regular physical, occupational, and speech therapy, he has spent the past 21 years defying those odds.
Last December, Joe published a detailed account of exactly how he did it in an autobiographical tell-all titled, "That's a Great Haircut!" And when it came time to write the book's foreword, he knew just who to ask: Dr. Piepgras. "He's seen firsthand how I've improved over the years," Joe says. "He knows exactly where I was at the beginning of all of this, and he knows exactly where I am today."
Joe tells us there was one more reason he wanted Dr. Piepgras to contribute to his book. "He saved my life," he says. "I barely survived my aneurysm, and I don't believe that I would have if he hadn't been my neurosurgeon."
As to why he agreed to contribute to Joe's book, Dr. Piepgras tells us it's all right there in the foreword. "Young man, peak of physical and mental conditioning, struck down by an intracranial vascular disruption and left with a major disability, yet he has persevered, maintained a positive attitude and is succeeding in life more than many folks without disability," Dr. Piepgras says. "Joe is a remarkable guy and as I write in the foreword, an unforgettable person and case for this neurosurgeon."
You can read that entire foreword in Joe's book, which is available from Amazon and Barnes & Noble. Then, give us something new to read by sharing your comments below. You can use the handy social media tools to share this story with others.