Jerry Grillo’s Story: Surviving and Recovering from a Cerebellar Stroke

jerry grillo in woodsI remember it like it was yesterday. Just before 7 p.m. on August 5, 2018, I was sitting in my living room, watching TV with my wife and son, when the sound of the TV faded away and was replaced by what sounded like the buzz of a thousand bees deep inside my right ear. The buzzing only lasted a few seconds but was followed with an all-consuming dizziness and nausea. I was having a cerebellar stroke.

What Is a Cerebellar Stroke?

A cerebellar stroke occurs when there’s a lack of blood flow to the part of the brain (cerebellum) that helps with body movement, eye movement and balance. They’re most commonly caused by blood clots, like mine was, but can also be caused by trauma.

Cerebellar strokes account for only about 10 percent of all strokes and are not easy to diagnose. They’re often mistaken as migraines, gastritis, meningitis or even inner ear infections. Without a quick and accurate diagnosis, cerebellar strokes can be severely debilitating — even life-threatening.

Luckily for me, Fadi Nahab, MD, stroke quality director for the Emory Healthcare Stroke Program, was able to identify what was happening to me. After looking over my MRI from the night of the stroke, Dr. Nahab told me that I’d actually had two strokes. He saw evidence of not only the cerebellar stroke but also of an earlier episode closer to the front of my brain. At some point, it seems, I’d had some type of minor stroke, probably while sleeping. I have no memory of it, but I learned there’s something called a silent stroke, which often has no symptoms but still causes damage to brain tissue. He was concerned that my heart may have been the cause of the stroke and recommended a small implantable cardiac monitor which soon detected an irregular heart rhythm called atrial fibrillation. As a result, I was able to get on the right treatment for me and have avoided any future strokes.

Life After a Stroke

When I think of how this could’ve turned out, I realize how lucky I am. I’ve made incredible progress with my recovery. There’s some lingering delay in my left hand—my typing isn’t as fast and accurate as it used to be, and playing guitar is harder than it was, but it’s all gotten better with repetition.

Strokes can leave a lasting impact on your life, and often those effects are more than just physical. I sometimes worry about the ‘what-ifs’ — What if I hadn’t made it? What if it happens again? Even though it’s easy to get sucked into the anxiety of worst-case scenarios, I try to quickly shift my focus back to reality. I’m here. I’m physically and cognitively intact. My son Joe, who is severely affected by cerebral palsy, needs me and I’m determined to stay healthy enough to continue caring for him. With the love and support of my wife, Jane, and the expert care of Dr. Nahab, I have confidence that I can look forward to many more years of happy evenings watching TV with my family.

Innovative Stroke Research Conducted by Dr. Fadi Nahab

There are known risk factors for stroke, including high blood pressure, high cholesterol, tobacco use, alcohol and drug abuse, poor diet and a sedentary lifestyle. But sometimes strokes occur in people who don’t have these risk factors. When the cause of a stroke is unknown, it’s called a cryptogenic stroke.

Dr. Nahab has conducted extensive research that concentrates on cryptogenic strokes. He and his colleagues have pinpointed blood biomarkers that identify patients most likely to develop future clotting abnormalities and are national leaders evaluating novel treatments through clinical trials to determine which patients may benefit.

“Studies completed more than a decade ago basically led to cryptogenic stroke patients being placed on an aspirin regimen and wished them good luck,” Dr. Nahab says. “But we’ve known for a while that patients who have had a cryptogenic stroke may have issues that necessitate blood-thinning medicine that is stronger than aspirin.” When it comes to the cause of strokes, Dr. Nahab wants to remove the ‘unknown’ from the equation. “The goal is to get patients the appropriate treatment before they have a recurrent stroke,” he says.

To learn more about the Emory Healthcare Stroke Center, visit our website at

Stroke: Takeaways from the Stroke Awareness Live Chat

Learn about the signs, symptoms and treatments for stroke from the experts at Emory Healthcare. On Tuesday, May 24, more than 100 participants joined us for a live online chat on stroke awareness. The chat was hosted by Mahmoud Obideen, MD, stroke neurohospitalist at Emory Johns Creek Hospital, and Fadi Nahab, MD, medical director of Emory Stroke Center .

Thanks to such a great turnout, we were able to answer quite a few questions that were submitted both prior to and during the chat. View the full chat transcript here.

Our doctors also took the time to answer some additional questions we didn’t get to during the stroke live chat:

Question: I had a stroke 11 months ago and don’t have any feeling on my right side. How can I get my feeling back without therapy?

Doctor’s Response: Stroke can lead to numbness of one side of the body. While most patients are able to regain some sensation back, patients can experience persistent loss. There are no studies that I’m aware of that have shown improvements in recovery from specific numbness symptoms. However, there’s a lot of data showing that cardiovascular exercise done before and after a stroke can help boost nerve regeneration. If you would like to discuss this in more detail, we’d be happy to see you in the Emory Stroke Clinic if you contact 404-778-7777.

Question: Does long-term HIV survival (23 years) and exposure to HIV medicines increase one’s risk of stroke?

Doctor’s Response: HIV infection has been shown to increase the risk of cardiovascular disease, including stroke. Additionally, some of the HIV medications can increase levels of bad cholesterol, resulting in a higher incidence of cardiovascular disease.

Question: At night and early morning both my arms are numb. I think it may be due to Flexeril or Baclofen. I take them at bedtime for pain and pinched nerves in my neck and right shoulder (my doctors have changed these meds back and forth), but I’m still concerned.

Doctor’s Response: Waking up with both arms feeling numb is typically related to pinched nerves in the arms or neck. While Flexeril and Baclofen can be helpful for muscle tightness and spasms, they are less effective for nerve-related pains. There are other medications that are more effective. Also, simple changes in sleep position or choice of pillow can sometimes alleviate the numbness.

Question: I had a stroke 11 days after giving birth to my daughter and was in Emory for 35 days with drains in my head. They found out I have a missing artery to my brain.

Doctor’s Response: I hope you’ve recovered well and are feeling better. Without more details, I’m unable to advise you on the “missing artery” in your brain. If you would like to discuss this in more detail, we’d be happy to see you in the Emory Stroke Clinic. You can contact us at 404-778-7777.

Question: I heard you should not fly if you’re at high risk for a stroke or have already had a stroke. Is there any truth to this?

Doctor’s Response: Patients who are at a high risk for stroke can face permanent disability if they don’t have access to immediate treatment. It’s important that you discuss the safety of flying after you’ve had a stroke with your doctor to obtain medical clearance.

Question: I’m concerned about stroke and how to control it. Recently, my dad had two strokes within one week. What can I do to prevent stroke?

Doctor’s Response: Life’s “simple 7” represents the healthy lifestyle factors that lead to reduction of both heart attack and stroke. Life’s simple 7 includes:
1. No tobacco use
2. Adequate exercise
3. Healthy diet
4. Healthy weight
5. Low cholesterol
6. Low blood sugar
7. Normal blood pressure

Question: Can Alopecia be a quiet sign of stroke?

Doctor’s Response: Alopecia isn’t typically associated with stroke.

Question: After a TIA (transient ischemic attack) stroke, is it normal to have a salty taste in your mouth? I had some denture work done and my mouth had a funny taste.

Doctor’s Response: A TIA stroke doesn’t typically cause a change in taste in the mouth. However, there are some medicines used for stroke prevention that can cause a change in taste.

Would you like to learn more about the Emory Stroke Center?


Stroke Awareness at Emory Healthcare

stroke-smallAccording to the American Heart Association, stroke is the leading cause of adult disability in the United States. Do you know the signs, symptoms and risk factors of stroke? It is important to be aware of those indicators and know when to Act FAST every month of the year, not just National Stroke Awareness Month. Emory Healthcare encourages you to talk with members of the Emory Healthcare stroke team during one of the following events near you.

Stroke Live Chat

When: Tuesday, May 24, 2018; 12:00 pm to 1:00 pm
Where: Online < >
What: Dr. Mahmoud Obideen, stroke neurohospitalist at Emory Johns Creek Hospital and Dr. Fadi Nahab, medical director of Emory Stroke Center will answer questions about stroke signs, symptoms and treatments during a LIVE interactive chat.
Central DeKalb Senior Center Health Fair
When: May 11, 2016; 10:00 am to 2:00 pm
Where: Briarcliff Oaks apartment community, 2982 Briarcliff Road NE, Atlanta, GA 30329 (parking is limited, additional parking across the street in front of Briarcliff Baptist Church)
What: Emory University Hospital stroke team will share information.

  • Stroke awareness education
  • Blood pressure screening
  • Blood glucose screening
  • Nutrition education

5K Scrub Run and Community Health Festival

When: Saturday, May 14, 2016; 8:00 am-11:00 am
Where: Emory Johns Creek Hospital parking lot
What: The stroke team will share information

  • Learn the signs and symptoms of stroke
  • Free glucose and cholesterol
  • Free blood pressure screening
  • Get your BMI checked
  • Vein screening

Old Fourth Ward Park Arts Festival

When: June 25 & 26, 2016
Where: Historic Fourth Ward Park behind Ponce City Market, 592 N
Angier Ave. NE, Atlanta, Georgia 30308
What: Emory University Hospital Midtown stroke team will have a table.

  • Learn the signs and symptoms of stroke
  • Free blood pressure screening
  • Hear about stroke rehabilitation programs

Stroke is an emergency. If you or someone around you is experiencing signs or symptoms of stroke, CALL 911 immediately.

Stroke Signs, Symptoms and Treatments Live Chat – May 24, 2016

stroke-chat-emailMay is Stroke Awareness Month. Stroke can strike fast, and every second counts when seeking treatment.  Join Emory neurologists on Tuesday, May 24 at 12 p.m. for a Stroke Awareness Month live chat to learn about stroke and how to act F.A.S.T.

Mahmoud Obideen, MD, stroke neurohospitalist at Emory Johns Creek Hospital and Fadi Nahab, MD, medical director of Emory Stroke Center will answer questions about stroke signs, symptoms and treatments during a LIVE interactive chat. If you’re interested in learning more about how to prevent, identify and care for strokes in yourself and loved ones, register now.




Emory supports World Stroke Day

Photo credit: Andrea Briscoe,

Photo credit: Andrea Briscoe,

World Stroke Day is observed on October 29 to raise awareness of the prevention and treatment of stroke in an effort to combat the high rates of the condition.

Emory Healthcare’s stroke program is dedicated to this prevention effort and members of the team recently joined Georgia Governor Nathan Deal as he signed a proclamation announcing October 29 as Stroke Awareness Day in the state.

Among the group on hand at the signing was Fadi Nahab, MD, medical director for the stroke program at Emory University Hospital and Emory University Hospital Midtown, Aaron Anderson, MD, vascular neurologist, and Jemma Brown, RN, MSN, Stroke Program Coordinator at Emory University Hospital Midtown .

Stroke is the 5th leading cause of death and the leading cause of adult disability in the U.S., according to the American Heart Association. Yet 80% of strokes are preventable. If you’d like to learn about the management of stroke risk factors, take this personal stroke risk assessment.

For more information about Emory’s Comprehensive stroke center: