American actor, father of 3 and aneurysm survivor. See his inspiring Q&A
Greek demigod Hercules’ physical prowess was the stuff of legends. So in order to gain and maintain the title role in the widely popular TV series Hercules: The Legendary Journeys in the late 1990s, actor Kevin Sorbo had to stay in top physical condition. But this pillar of strength came crashing down one day when during a workout, he felt a sharp, debilitating pain shooting down his left arm. Soon he was exhibiting slurred speech, dizziness, vision loss, and numbness. Rushed to the hospital for emergency treatment, he'd only learn weeks later that he had suffered a ruptured brain aneurysm . Here is his Q & A If you could turn back time, would you have avoided the gym on that fateful day? The gym? No, not at all. That was just a normal routine for me every single day to go to the gym. It really didn’t have anything to do with adding fuel to the fire. I think that going to the chiropractor certainly didn’t help matters much. But I don’t blame the chiropractor, because since gaining understanding from different neurologists, my aneurysm in my left shoulder was at a point then where it was going to explode anyway. Raising my hand above my head might have been enough to force clots to enter my brain. It was just becoming a balloon that was getting too much air into it at that point. Why did it take the doctors so long to diagnose your stroke? What’s weird is that I think they were in denial as well. I had a neurologist at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center say, ‘You’re Hercules. Sure, you can go back to work.’ I said ‘I’m a human being. That’s a character I play.’ I think that people get caught up in it as much as anybody gets caught up in it when you play a character larger than life. It’s weird. It’s really strange. Doctors know it takes three days for a stroke to show up on an MRI, but with all the symptoms I had when I came in there, they knew it had to be a stroke. So it’s weird. They certainly saved my life. I’m not going to deny them that, but it was a little frustrating that they said, ‘Oh you’re going to be fine’ because I knew in my brain that I wasn’t fine. But I was in denial as well. I knew I had stroked. I knew what had happened. I knew about the slurred speech. I knew about the fourth stroke that came and went, and I didn’t want to admit to that. I mean, I was in shape that was ridiculous. For a guy who was 38 years old, I was in better shape than most 22-year-old athletes. But all of a sudden it happens to me and it was frightening. Do you think in hindsight that there were any warning signs? I had them for months. First my pinky was getting cold. Then my ring finger and then my middle finger and then my whole left hand, they were getting number and colder and I couldn’t figure out what was going on. And obviously after everything happened it was explained to me that the aneurysm that was there, that no one knew existed, was slowly spitting out blood clots through that artery that was feeding into my hands and it was sealing off those fingers from blood flow. And those aches were there in my shoulder and all the way down my arm. I had aches and pains and it would be throbbing. My artery was trying to find a way to pump blood and it was getting clogged up, so it couldn’t get through there anymore. Since you took such good care of yourself, is there any speculation about why this happened to you? Two things really stood out: one is that it could have been biological, something that I had since birth, the aneurysm, which was the seed that did everything to me. Or they said it could have been the years and years of lifting weights, the wearing down of that artery from the rotation of doing shoulder exercises, bench presses, or whatever. It’s been known to happen to some major league baseball players. It could have been stress. I honestly think that it was the stress in my life. I loved the show, but everything was on my shoulders. I was working 14-hour days and lifting weights two hours a day, but on the flipside of that I loved the series. I loved playing the character. I loved going in every day and laughing. I was really lucky and I know that. Hercules and Zeus || Like Father, Like Son: Kevin Sorbo's Hercules opposite Anthony Quinn's Zeus.You had your strokes just months after Kirk Douglas’s very public stroke. Were you worried that you would end up with his level of paralysis? I didn’t think of him to be honest. I just thought of stroke in general. You think of death, you think of sitting in a wheelchair and drooling out of one side of your mouth. I was scared, scared of what’s going to happen. I had some doctors telling me that the strokes were not caused by the aneurysm, that it was something else. So in my mind, I’m thinking, ‘So there’s something in my body ready to give me more strokes?’ I became worried about everything, a total hypochondriac. I was at the point where I was like ‘Oh my gosh, I got a hangnail. Is that going to kill me now?’ I think that was one of the main reasons I started suffering panic and anxiety attacks. Even dealing with depression and blaming the world, even though the world had nothing to do with it. It was scary because I didn’t know where my career was going to end up. I still had so much to do in my life. I was going to get married and wanted to have kids and I wanted a big movie career and I wanted all of this stuff to happen, and all of a sudden those things were sort of taken away. What would you say was the single most effective component of your recovery? The greatest was my will. That’s why the book is called True Strength. I had to find my own true strength. I mean, that’s why it’s a play on Hercules, the character that I played, which was the strongest man in the world. That wasn’t true strength. That was television strength with a bunch of stunt guys making me look like I was an animal. This was me reaching deep down because I’m a really strong-willed person and saying I’m not going to let this thing push me down. I’m not going to hold back. I’m going to get better than the doctors think I can. Which recovery exercises worked best for you? Anything to do with balance was key because I lost 10 percent of vision in both of my eyes, which hasn’t gotten better, but I’ve adapted to it. My balance center, itself, was also affected, so I had to learn to walk again and balance myself again and slowly work my way up to running again. Golf was important, because it deals with nothing but balance because you’re standing over a ball that doesn’t move and you swing. I’m a good golfer, but I was a better golfer before the stroke. I’m getting better again, but it’s taken a long time. Meditation, acupuncture, and yoga were also bits and pieces of the puzzle that really made me feel better.