Young golfer returns to sport he loves after stroke

By American Heart Association News

Andrew Lask
Former golf pro Andrew Lask survived a stroke at 25. He now encourages young professionals to support stroke and heart disease research. (Photo courtesy of Andrew Lask)

After stepping out of his golf cart on the 18th fairway, Andrew Lask Jr. felt dizzy and wobbled a bit. He was playing a charity event at Tamarack Country Club in Greenwich, Connecticut, where, at age 25, Lask was their youngest teaching professional.

He tried to focus, but when he looked down at the ball, he became even dizzier.

"My playing partner was up by the green screaming at me to hit," Lask said. "I remember swinging and hitting the ball nowhere in the direction I wanted it to go. Afterward, I went straight to the pro shop to call my father and lie down."

The dizziness continued, along with a screaming headache, which he and his father thought might be related to heat and a long day of playing. Lask gulped down Gatorade and ate salty chips, while his father insisted on taking him to the emergency room of the nearest hospital.

A checkup and CT scan showed nothing irregular, so Lask was sent home.

"I didn't emphasize the burning sensation in my neck and how bad the headache was, but I'm not sure it would have mattered," Lask said. "I was 25 and in excellent shape."

He felt dizzy and nauseous for several days, staying in bed most of the time. His father took him to an urgent care facility, where doctors thought maybe he had a virus.

Then they visited their family doctor, who was concerned enough to order an MRI.

Andrew Lask Sr. was in the room when the neurologist looked at the results.

"Oh my God, he had a stroke," the doctor said.

"Whoa, how is that possible?" Andrew Sr. said.

Doctors concluded that Lask had suffered from an activity-related stroke, most likely from swinging the golf club. He tore or damaged the inner lining of an artery, which is called an arterial vertebral dissection, causing a clot to form. The clot expanded until it stifled blood flow to the brain.

In Lask's case, doctors determined that because he had survived the stroke and was functioning he should heal naturally.

"They kept me in the hospital for a week, but I had no surgeries or medication," he said.

He continued to be checked every six months for three years, getting a clean bill of health each time. His only lingering symptoms were fatigue and balance issues, which lasted a few years. He also feared a recurrence, though doctors assured him it was a freak occurrence.

"After it happened, it took me a while to play golf again," Lask said. "I returned to golf a year later and I remember being scared after swings that it would hurt my neck, but now I'm back to golf at full strength."

Lask stayed at the club for another seven years. While the stroke didn't hinder his golf game, it didn't help either, leaving him feeling less marketable for pro positions.

"I always thought I would be a head golf professional or a financial planner, the two things I loved," Lask said.

So he gave up the golf course for Wall Street. He's now an adviser at Morgan Stanley in Manhattan.

Not that he's totally done teaching.

"I'm always giving two-minute swing tips in the hallways, and everyone wants to go to the driving range with me," he said.

These days, Lask continues to golf for fun, as well as play basketball and tennis, run, and work out at a gym.

"The difference is I carry my phone on me at all times," he said.

On the plus side, he said he's now more empathetic to others' challenges and health issues. He's also become very active in the American Heart Association's Young Professionals Committee in New York City, which works to raise awareness and funds for heart and stroke issues and research. He's served on the group's board since 2015 and is helping to organize the Young Professionals 2018 Red Ball on Nov. 16.

Lask's father also has drawn strength from his son's stroke, which he memorialized by affixing the hospital visitation sticker from June 8, 2006, to his car dashboard.

"Anytime I'm feeling sorry for myself if things aren't going well," he said, "I look at that sticker and remind myself how lucky I am."

Stories From the Heart chronicles the inspiring journeys of heart disease and stroke survivors, caregivers and advocates.

If you have questions or comments about this story, please email editor@heart.org.


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