It was a car skidding out of control on an icy road, a white-knuckle airplane flight through a thunderstorm and a canoe approaching an unexpected waterfall all rolled into one.
This was the night of Sept. 3, 2015, a nocturnal scare which would change the life of Brian Propp forever.
The former Philadelphia Flyer great was vacationing with his family in Annapolis, Md. when he began to feel out of sorts.
He went to bed suffering from a headache but didn’t think much of it.
And then the world turned upside down.
At approximately 1:30 a.m., Propp awoke and realized something was terribly wrong.
He had suffered a massive stroke. When he tried to get up, he fell out of bed, striking his head and losing two teeth in the process.
“My right arm and fingers didn’t work and I couldn’t speak,’’ Propp revealed during his speech as guest speaker at last Wednesday night’s 20th annual Kiwanis Scholar-Athlete Awards Banquet at the Sheraton Hotel/Bucks County.
“It was a scary time. I wondered: Could I ever speak again? Would I ever think clearly? Will I ever get better?’’
It turns out things eventually got better, but the progress was painfully slow.
Doctors confirmed that Propp was heading to this crisis for quite some time.
He had experienced an ablation of the heart in 2011 and was dealing with Atrial fibrillation. He had been taking medication but stopped, not totally understanding the risk.
Eventually, that caused a clot near his heart which traveled to his brain, thus causing the stroke.
Fortunately, medical assistance arrived quickly or things could have been much worse.
As it stood, he was hospitalized for five weeks and, for three months, his ability to talk was practically paralyzed.
“All I could say were the words ‘and’ and ‘Bernie Parent,’. . .I had relearn things I already knew,’’ Propp recalled.
“Rehab was a struggle. I wanted it to happen quickly but it took a long time to get better. I was impatient, stubborn, moody. I learned that I need to take my time and be more positive about the time it takes to get better.’’
Words of encouragement came flooding in from former teammates, friends and family members, all expressing concern for the Flyers’ third alltime leading scorer and a member of their Hall of Fame.
“My family was always with me and they tried to help,’’ Propp said. “I learned that I needed to be patient, positive, work harder, content, accepting, at peace and supporting with my brain injury,’’ he said.
Now, nearly three years later, Propp, a 59-year-old native of Saskatchewan, is in a much better place, although he continues to work through the long-term effects of the stroke.
He still has to deal with Aphasia.
“The words don’t always come to me,’’ he said, “so I have to slow down and take my time.
“My physical therapy went the fastest because I was in great shape. My occupational therapy took longer because my fingers and hand didn’t work that well. I learned to sign my autograph with my left hand. My fingers still don’t work well so I can’t tie a tie, shoelaces or button my shirt.
“Today I have realized that it takes time for the brain to heal.’’
Medical experts have Propp going through a number of treatments, including sessions in a hyperbaric chamber (40 sessions of 90 minutes each, which helps with the oxygen flow to the brain) stem cell therapy (which helped improve speech) and Bemer machine sessions (to improve circulation).
In addition, he had something called Watchman surgery, which helps the left side of the heart to prevent future strokes.
“I don’t get sick now, I am thinking clearer, have lots of energy and feel relaxed all day,’’ Propp said.
So much so that he’s playing hockey twice a week with his morning league at the Pennsauken Skate Zone and getting back on the golf links for the past two years.
In speaking to young scholar-athletes, Propp wanted to convey the message that all people – young and old – are susceptible to strokes.
Prevention is key.
“It is important to remember the acronym F-A-S-T,’’ Propp said.
“F is for Face: Is your face drooping? A is for Arms: Do you feel your arms and feet aren’t working? S is for speech: Is your speech impaired? And T is for time: Time is critical. You must call 9-1-1 and get to a hospital immediately.’’
Propp received a warm ovation from the audience. He is living proof that a strong will can overcome this sort of adversity and he wants to help others who are either enduring this challenge or facing it in the years ahead.