Fishing after a Stroke 

by Brie Weisman, Occupational Therapist

Also published by Commercial Fisheries News March 2022

Strokes are the fifth most common cause of death in the U.S., affecting up to 30% of Americans. The vast majority of strokes are the result of a blood clot to the brain, which can cause brain damage, disability, and death. In recent years, headlines have featured  U.S. Coast Guard efforts to rescue crew members who have had strokes while on fishing vessels up to 100 miles offshore.

Recognizing stroke symptoms and obtaining fast treatment is key for the greatest chance for full recovery. While people who’ve suffered strokes tend to have lifelong effects, receiving treatment within three hours is essential in minimizing its effects. Stroke is a traumatic brain injury that can cause severe cognitive issues, difficulty communicating, vision and hearing loss, weakness on the affected side, and mobility issues.

Possible stroke symptoms include:

  • Sudden dizziness, trouble walking, loss of balance/coordination

  • Sudden trouble seeing in one/both eyes

  • Sudden severe headache without clear cause

  • Sudden numbness of the face, arm, or leg

  • Sudden confusion/trouble understanding others

Working fishermen are often far from emergency medical care, so that quickly identifying a stroke victim and obtaining the swiftest possible evacuation is critical for the best possible recovery outcomes.

The CDC encourages using FAST to determine if someone needs medical intervention.

F—Face: Ask the person to smile. Does one side of the face droop?

A—Arms: Ask the person to raise both arms. Does one arm drift downward?

S—Speech: Ask the person to repeat a simple phrase. Is speech slurred or strange?

T—Time: If you see any of these, call 911 immediately.

About half of all strokes are preventable. To reduce your risk of stroke, maintain a healthy weight, eat a balanced diet, don’t smoke, limit alcohol intake, exercise, and see your primary care provider regularly.

Post-stroke Fishing

fisherman standing on boat deck with a gaff hook over his shoulders between two outstretched arms
Jeff Edwards, returning to lobstering after a stroke

Jeff Ewards, lobsterman, suffered a stroke in 2018. He returned to lobstering six months later.

What do you like most about work?

Being on the water, always seeing something new.

What’re the hardest parts of your job since the stroke?

By the end of most workdays, my ankle hurts from dragging it around. Neither my right hand nor right ankle are as strong as they were. My shoulder hurts like pins and needles all the time.

What’s been the most surprising thing about work?

I immediately thought I could bounce right back, but it was a long time recovering.

Is there some advice you’d give your younger self?

Lose weight. I was heavy, my blood pressure was a bit high, that contributed to it. And I didn’t go to the doctors enough.

Do you use adaptive techniques?

My strength is good enough, but I have to literally watch my right hand so it doesn’t just drop traps. It will if I don’t concentrate. And now, if my Sternman’s directly behind me, I can’t hear him. We’re looking into a backup video mirror so I can see if he’s trying to get my attention.

Do you have any tips to share?

Strokes are serious. Get help immediately. Without Carolyn [Jeff’s partner] pushing me to go in, I’d have died or been too debilitated to work. If you have a stroke, don’t drink alcohol, it’ll impair brain recovery.

What’s the one thing you can’t leave the dock without?

My Sternman. I can’t safely haul alone now.