Back to school time and many of us are reminded of our first assignment: Write a short paragraph about what you did during your summer vacation.

I really didn't look forward to this assignment, not because I didn't have exciting summers, but because I struggled with writing.

One year I remember staring at a blank sheet of paper, and my sixth-grade teacher Mrs. King walked by and whispered: Just write the title about the best part of your summer and the rest of the words will come easy.

Taking her advice, I am going to write about my stroke of luck. This might be my most important back-to-school essay if it promotes stroke awareness, the third leading cause of death in the United States, according to the American Heart Association.

On graduation day in May, I suffered a stroke. My body was making it very clear. My balance was off, I was walking like a duck, I had a difficult time driving to work, began to slur my speech, and I even gave a principal three hugs at a going-away assembly.

By the middle of the day I felt so sick that I went home, threw up and went to bed. Although my body was trying to tell me something was really wrong, my mind was arguing back. It was saying, "It's just a bug. You have graduation, buck up buddy. Just get some sleep and you will rally by graduation."

Unfortunately, my brain won the argument for the day.

My first stroke of luck is that on the following day, I listened to my family and co-workers and checked into the ER at Northwest Hospital.

My luck continued.

The Northwest stroke team quickly went into action and was able to determine that I had suffered a pons area stroke and admitted me for treatment.

Again, I was lucky to have my family and an entire medical team devoted to helping my stubborn brain understand that I had two choices: I could be a stroke victim or a stroke patient. I chose patient, a critical decision for recovery.

Being a stroke patient means you commit to a recovery plan that included, in my case, physical and speech therapy.

Relearning is very humbling and frustrating. I was lucky to have great therapists who helped me work on balance and regaining my speech.

More importantly, they gave me a deeper perspective and understanding of the fine line between frustration being a motivator for learning and frustration making me cry and shutting down because I couldn't do what I thought was a simple puzzle or name words that start with the letter P.

Powerful lessons, especially for me being an educator.

I was really lucky this summer because I took time to learn about how to prevent strokes.

Know the risk factors, which include some you can control, such as tobacco smoke, obesity, diabetes, physical inactivity, high cholesterol and high blood pressure, and some you can't, like family history and increasing age.

Do something about the factors you can control, and make some changes in your life. Don't sweat the small stuff, and hug your family and friends more than three times a day.

Mrs. King, what do you think? I hope I get an A because I can't handle a B right now. Just ask my speech therapist.

Nicholas I. Clement is superintendent of the Flowing Wells Unified School District. Email him at