Prof on the road to recovery

Randy Blazak, associate professor of criminology and sociology, is recovering from a stroke he suffered Thursday, Aug. 29.

Since the stroke, Blazak has been using physical-therapy exercises to regain strength. Part of the therapy requires working with rubber bands.

“They smell like vanilla,” he said holding the band briefly to his nose before putting it away.

When asked what else he has to do, he described bouncing up and down on a big ball. “It’s to help with balance,” he said.

His favorite exercise is the stationary bike.

“It feels like a normal activity,” he said. He added he’s a cyclist as well as a moderate health nut.

Blazak’s stroke started out as a sudden and intense headache during his workout session. He thought little of it at first but later noticed numbness in his right hand. As the evening progressed, he lost hearing in his right ear and the headache worsened.

Blazak’s partner, Laurie, drove him to Legacy Emanuel Hospital at 4 a.m. Friday morning. A CAT scan was performed and Blazak received the news he was having a stroke as a result of a cavernous malformation.

A cavernous malformation, also called an angioma, is an area of abnormally enlarged blood vessels in the brain.

Blazak’s stay at Legacy Emanuel lasted a week. He was initially nervous about spending time in the hospital but quickly found the quality of care and attention he received from the staff to be exceptional.

“They were great there,” he said.

The PSU community showed its support during Blazak’s stay at the hospital and his subsequent week of bed rest by keeping him supplied with cookies, cakes, fudge and good cheer. Though a health-conscious individual, Blazak admits the goodies helped tremendously to lift his spirits.

“The PSU community really is like a family,” he said. “It’s been fantastic. We care about each other.”

He added that his partner has been indispensable during recovery. “Laurie has been my Florence Nightingale,” he said.

It’s not all cookies and games for Blazak. As a result of the stroke, he has lost feeling on the right side of his body, some hearing in his right ear, balance, and some mobility and energy. His vision is blurred, as well.

He hints at the frustration he sometimes feels about going from an active lifestyle to a laborious one.

“It takes me a while to cross that street,” he says, gesturing to a walking cane. “And those cars just have to be patient.”

His doctors have recommended an operation as a lasting solution to his condition, but Blazak isn’t entirely comfortable with the idea of subjecting his brain stem to the cuts of a knife. Instead, he wants to look into homeopathic remedies such as acupuncture.

Whether it’s knives or needles, Blazak must seek further medical attention. If left alone, the angioma could cause a number of problems for Blazak in the future, including another stroke, a seizure, permanent numbness or paralysis.

Despite his troubles, Blazak is excited about teaching two courses this fall: Criminology and The Sociology of Deviance. He feels teaching is one of the most rewarding aspects of his life.

However, he realizes he may have to modify his classes due to his condition. Blazak hopes students will understand if he occasionally lectures while seated, or if his classes include more discussion than usual.

Blazak believes one of the most important effects of this experience is his greater understanding of and compassion for disabled people.

He feels the physical limitations he’s experiencing make him more sensitive to how difficult it is for those with disabilities to get around in this world.

Although he thinks Portland is a conscientious city that provides many services to the disabled and has an excellent mass-transportation system, he has begun to notice how hard it can be to get around the PSU campus.

“The elevator in Cramer Hall, for example, works about only half the time,” he said.

He has also noticed the steepness of the steps leading into Neuberger Hall.

“It would be difficult for a disabled person to climb those steps,” he said.