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The comeback kid

Gordon Viggiano makes inspiring progress after devastating stroke


by: CLIFF NEWELL - Gordon and Jill Viggiano are ready to tell the remarkable story of how he has come back from a stroke that impaired the right side of his body four years ago.

Just as Gordon Viggiano turned 51 years old in 2008, it seemed as if his life couldn't be better.

He had his lovely, vivacious wife, Jill, and their two young children, his consulting business was prospering, his health was excellent, he was active in community affairs and he was living in Lake Oswego, a city he had come to love.

Then he had a stroke.

Just hours after celebrating his birthday, he suffered a debilitating attack that threw his life for a loop and took the rest of his family right along with him. The entire right side of his body was severely affected, but no one realized how serious the stroke would be.

'We knew so little at first. We thought that in a year Gordon would be all better,' Jill Viggiano said. 'We thought we would celebrate with cake in the park.'

Instead, it is now four years later and Gordon still has not completely recovered from his stroke. He has to use his left hand to shake hands, and sometimes he looks perplexed and frustrated as he tries to express a thought and cannot quite find the words.

But his handshake is strong and his smile is big. Gordon and Jill Viggiano have gone through a devastating experience, so sudden and severe that at times they thought their lives would never be the same. As Jill said, 'We looked into the abyss.' But to meet them is to be reassured that tragedy can be overcome and that life can be good again.

Now, with a big assist from Jill, Gordon wants to tell his story to others. The triumph is not in the result of his life but in the journey.

'I would like to share my story with churches, young people's groups and medical groups,' Gordon Viggiano said. 'I want to go through the whole incredible process.'

'We have no idea where we are,' Jill Viggiano said. 'Most likely, Gordon will be in recovery for the rest of his life. With the presentation we don't say, 'I did it and now you can do it, too.' It's really about hope, optimism and faith.'

It was on March 28, 2008, that Gordon's wonderful life was shattered by the stroke. The couple immediately had to deal with many challenges and the fear that arises from them.

'It struck like lightning,' Jill said. 'He had no risk factors but he lost his entire right side, his ability to speak and most of his memory. You think you have it all together - until something like this happens.'

It gradually dawned on the Viggianos that Gordon's condition was worse than they thought. For example, after his attack, food tasted awful to Gordon.

'I thought Jill had lost her ability to cook,' he said.

Instead, Gordon Viggiano had lost his ability to taste. The stroke had destroyed the taste buds in his mouth.

As bad as it was to so suddenly lose his health, Gordon could not afford to 'wallow' in his misfortune. He had bills to pay and children to raise.

'There was no sitting in a corner feeling sorry for ourselves,' Gordon said. 'We couldn't sit back and retire.'

Jill said, 'Our kids were asking us, 'What's going to happen to us?' We had to be as motivated and upbeat as we could possibly be.'

They also had to deal with a mostly grim medical forecast.

'In the medical community we got no encouragement and no guarantees,' Jill said. 'One hundred times we heard that every stroke is different.

'We were told that, if you hadn't recovered in three months, you were pretty much gone,' Gordon said.

'We were told that people who work at it the most do the best,' Jill said. 'We ran with that.'

The stroke was a tragedy, but if it had to happen, the Viggianos were as well prepared as anybody to deal with it. They got a lot of help from their friends.

'Recovery is a team sport,' Jill said. 'You can't recover alone. Lake Oswego people were amazing to us with gift cards and letters. I just love this community. All of the pieces for recovery were there for us - wonderful people, strong faith and a great family.'

With Gordon unable to work, the Viggianos had to ask, 'Where will the money come from?'

'Gordon had bought a small disability policy many years ago,' Jill said. 'Combined with the money we got from Social Security, we had just enough to pay our bills.'

She added, 'Just before his stroke, Gordon was planning to buy a much larger disability policy that would have paid everything. But it couldn't be that easy!'

Maybe not, but their story was truly inspirational, and last April they wanted to tell it. Gordon was still having trouble speaking and writing, but he had an excellent assistant in Jill.

'Between us, we worked on a whole presentation,' Jill said. 'Last September, Gordon started reading his speech every single day. It got to where he could speak in unbroken sentences.'

The speech was titled 'My Brain Has a Hole in It,' and April 10 was set for its debut at their church, Community of Faith in Tualatin. The presentation was posted for all of the Viggianos' friends on the website caringbridge.org, a big crowd showed up and Gordon gave a socko performance. Their next action was to celebrate.

'It has been four years since Gordon had his stroke, and he still has not fully recovered,' Jill said. 'But it was time for a party anyway. We had a cake and 80 people were there.'

Still, a cake delayed tastes even better.

To find out about Gordon and Jill Viggiano's presentation, call 503-305-8722.



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