Steve Zuckerman and Debra Meyerson
Steve Zuckerman and Debra Meyerson

During the stop-by in Detroit on Aug. 5, a couple will share their story at a Corktown event.

Debra Meyerson, a Metro Detroit native, was a Stanford University professor and a healthy, athletic mother of three when her life was turned upside down in 2010 by a severe stroke that nearly killed her.

The stroke left Meyerson paralyzed on her right side and with no speech at all. Suddenly, her roles as a professor, mother and wife were seemingly impossible to fulfill.

Instead of giving up, Meyerson, now 65, fully committed to a long and tedious recovery process. She learned how to walk with a limp and had limited speech that came with great effort. Still, Meyerson could once again drive, travel and take care of herself.

The problem, however, is that aphasia, or the loss of ability to understand or express speech caused by brain damage (such as from a stroke) meant that working in academia was no longer feasible. “That was a huge blow as so much of her life — and her identity — was tied to that work,” explains her husband, Steve Zuckerman, 62.

Meyerson and Zuckerman weren’t ready to give up, though. To help raise awareness for strokes and stroke recovery, they launched Stroke Onward in 2019 as a professional activity that would help them and the thousands of people they could reach through it.

Now, Meyerson, a stroke survivor, and Zuckerman, her care partner, devote their time to helping others navigate strokes and stroke aftermath. They help people around the country rebuild their identities and lead rewarding lives, regardless of any limitations. 

Meyerson also authored the book Identity Theft: Rediscovering Ourselves After Stroke (Andrews McMeel Publishing) to share her inspirational journey with others.

Biking Across the Country

Currently, Meyerson and Zuckerman are in the middle of a 100-day tandem bike ride across the country to generate support for stroke survivors. They began on the west coast in Astoria, Ore., and plan to finish on the east coast in Boston, Mass.

On Aug. 5, Meyerson and Zuckerman will be riding through Michigan and will be guest speakers at an event being held at Detroit Axe-The Yard in Corktown, where stroke survivors will share their stories. The event will include games, food and more.

“I think it’s safe to say that if Debra had not had a stroke, we would not be doing this,” Zuckerman says.

While the pair, who now live in Portola Valley, Calif., have a mutual interest in cycling and often rode through Ann Arbor with their kids when they lived in Michigan, “100 days is definitely pushing the envelope for us,” Zuckerman says.

Previously, they’ve done shorter rides that lasted up to three weeks. The current ride, however, is a new challenge that they’re confident will bring stroke awareness nationwide.

“Astoria is a classic starting point for cross-country rides, with several routes west that are beautiful and good for biking,” Zuckerman says. 

Zuckerman and Meyerson are riding in tandem and are joined by a close friend who had a traumatic brain injury, a second stroke survivor and two summer interns from Washington University in St. Louis.

“They are supporting our work to organize both online and in-person events and creating content for social media and other communication efforts,” Zuckerman explains of the interns. “Around their work, each is generally riding every other day.”

Zuckerman says the group created their own custom route built around routes generated by Adventure Cycling Association, a nonprofit that focuses on travel by bicycle, and around places they believed would offer beautiful riding. Along the way, they stop at larger cities like Detroit to hold events to support the mission of their work.

Spreading awareness about strokes at a stop along the route.
Spreading awareness about strokes at a stop along the route.

Over the 100-day trip, they alternate between sleeping in an RV, tents and motels. “We made a conscious decision that we had to create a fixed schedule to be able to organize events and achieve our mission goals,” Zuckerman says. “If we get behind, we’ll just have to ride in the RV a bit. Fortunately, so far, we’ve had no forced car travel.”

The group starts each day at 6 a.m. and begins riding around 8 a.m. Then, they take three to four breaks throughout the day and finish at 3-4 p.m. Each week includes rest days where the team sleeps in, catches up on laundry and works on the Stroke Onward mission.

Sharing Stories with Others

Debbie Landau, 65, Meyerson’s best friend since attending grade school in Southfield more than 50 years ago, is helping to organize the free event in Detroit on Aug. 5. Meyerson has deep roots in Metro Detroit that include attending Temple Beth El, plus her family owned Checker BBQ and Buddy’s BBQ, among other Jewish businesses.

“At almost the three-quarter mark, they’re going to pass through Detroit,” Landau explains of the group involved in the 100-day ride. 

When Zuckerman approached her with an idea to hold an event during their stop-by, Landau, who knew how hard Meyerson worked on her recovery with her care partner, was fully onboard to help out.

Working alongside stroke coordinators that run survivor groups, Landau helped organize several guest speakers for the upcoming Corktown event, which will feature Zuckerman and Meyerson sharing their story. “We’re not doing it for money,” Landau says. “We’re doing this to raise awareness and for whoever will listen to our story.”

Stroke By the Numbers:
  • One-third of stroke survivors are under the age of 65
  • Stroke is the leading cause of adult-onset disability
  • One-third of stroke survivors experience aphasia
  • 800,000 people in the U.S. suffer a stroke annually, about every 40 seconds
  • Nearly 8 million stroke survivors live in the U.S. today

BE FAST to save lives and prevent or lessen damage from strokes. Look for:

F: Facial drooping

A: Arm weakness

S: Speech difficulties

T: Time

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