Jake Nicolopulos continues to improve, his mother says

by - Senior Writer -

Ann Nicolopulos watched her strapping young son walk down the hall in their home in Anderson last December and knew almost immediately that something was wrong.

Ann’s son, Jake Nicolopulos, was a linebacker at T.L. Hanna High School and a Clemson recruit, carrying a solid 245 pounds on his 6-foot-2 frame.

But Ann said she could tell by the look on Jake’s face that he was in trouble.
“It just looked like he was in a trance,” she said Thursday night. “He came walking down the hall, and had his hands up to his mouth, and he was looking at us like ‘what is wrong.’ “

The night before, Jake had complained of a severe migraine headache, but had finally drifted off to sleep, and Ann said that she and her husband, Craig, checked on him periodically throughout the night, and he appeared to be resting ok.

The next morning, Jake got up and ate his usual big breakfast, watched ESPN, and told Ann and Craig that he was feeling better. He then went upstairs to take a shower, and Craig reminded him to “dress nice” because he was going to meeting with Clemson offensive line coach Brad Scott at lunch that day.

Ann said that she and Craig always would sit in the den and wait for Jake to come by on his way out the door so they could give him a hug before he left for school.

When Jake came down the hall that day, however, the lives of the Nicolopulos family changed forever.

Craig and Ann rushed to their son, and he was unable to tell them what was wrong, so they laid Jake down in the hallway, and tried to bend his knees. Ann said they thought that maybe he was dizzy and was going to faint, and they were trying to get blood to his head.

Instead, Jake’s right leg dropped almost immediately, and the Nicolopulos’ called 911. Ann said EMS was there within five minutes, and the EMT on site spotted the signs of a major stroke almost immediately.

Later that day, Ann and Craig were called into the doctor’s office and told the one thing that all parents fear - that Jake might not make it.

Fast forward seven weeks, and Jake not only survived that night, he is progressing well. He has been moved to Shepherd Rehabilitation Hospital in Atlanta, and is walking [assisted] and his vocabulary is growing word by word.

Jake has been at Shepherd since December 22nd, but his stay there will end on February 2nd, and on February 3rd he will start out-patient rehabilitation at the Pathways Center in Atlanta.

“Jake is making progress,” Ann said. “It is slow, but it is still progress. “When this happened, he lost all use of his right arm, his right leg, and his speech. Now he is walking, which is great to see. And he is getting some movement back in his right arm. It is still weak, but he is getting some use back.”

Ann said that re-learning speech will be the most difficult part of Jake’s rehabilitation from the stroke.

“They told us the most difficult thing will be the speech; it was the first thing to go,” she said. “He is up to about 20 words that he says, like mom, dad, hey, bye and thank you. Some words he is saying at the appropriate time. This happened seven weeks ago last Wednesday, so it really is remarkable. But we realize this is a marathon, not a sprint.”

Ann said that Jake’s recovery will be aided by his youth.

“Recovery would be completely different if he were my age,” she said. “But even though there was a lot of damage, his brain can learn new pathways, whereas mine might not be able to.”

Ann said she has no doubt that Jake is well on the road to recovery, and she expects to once again see her son walking with no assistance.

“I think Jake will walk, and walk quite well,” she said. “His speech, that is going to take time getting better. In 25 percent of pediatric stroke cases, you never know the cause, and this is one of those rare incidents where we don’t know why it happened. But right now, all we are focused on is Jake.”

**The Nicolopulos family is in the process of moving for the third time since Jake’s stroke, and Ann said once she gets her new address, where she and Craig will live with Jake as he progresses through his outpatient rehabilitation, she will let the Clemson family know the new address. Once we receive that, we will pass it along so TigerNet members can send the family cards and letters.

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