The road to recovery was a long one for writer Ron Smith. After he suffered a stroke, he was initially left paralyzed on his right side and couldn't speak — but he says he was still fortunate.

"I was lucky in one sense that I didn't lose my cognitive abilities," he told host Sheryl MacKay on CBC's North by Northwest.

Before the incident, the writer never quite knew what a stroke was. After he went through one himself, he discovered just how disillusioning the disorder can be for survivors.

"I realized that stroke survivors didn't have a voice. A lot of them felt abandoned and a lot of them had resigned themselves to their lot. I just couldn't accept that."

The B.C. author spent 18 months writing a book — typing with just his left thumb and index finger. Titled The Defiant Mind: Living Inside a Stroke, the book chronicles his struggle and aims to send a message of hope to all survivors.

The defiant mind

Strokes occur when blood flow to the brain is disrupted: either the blood supply is blocked or a blood vessel within the brain is ruptured.

Ron Smith

It took Ron Smith 18 months to write The Defiant Mind: Living Inside a Stroke, typing it with only two fingers. (Ronsdale Press)

Signs and symptoms include slurred speech and moments of paralysis (to learn more about the symptoms, visit the Heart and Stroke Foundation). Strokes can result in death or permanent brain damage.

When Ron Smith began noticing symptoms, he says he naturally did what a lot of people do — he didn't accept that there was anything wrong.

"I was in complete denial, which is a fairly common response to having a stroke, unfortunately," he said. "I was determined that it would be anything but."

Still, Smith knew he felt different. He says he felt "odd" and had a combination of different sensations, including flu-like symptoms and dizziness.

"You just feel like you want to lay down and have a good nap."

He reluctantly decided to check in at the hospital, and the doctor insisted he stay in for observation, much to Smith's dismay.

But the visit more than likely saved his life.

Life after a stroke

With most strokes, permanent damage to the brain is inflicted. The consequences can be mild or severe. In Smith's case, he temporarily lost his speech and the ability to move his right side. He also lost basic memories.

He recalls not knowing what certain objects were, like a knife, and essentially had to relearn everyday knowledge that he had taken for granted. The whole process was quite disheartening, he says.

"When you lose part of your brain, you lose part of who you are and part of how you belong and relate to the world you live in. I suddenly felt like I wasn't part of the world anymore."

Smith knows first hand how disillusioned people can feel after suffering a stroke, and he says he's lucky to have recovered significantly over the last four years. But that's not the case with many people. He says a lot of survivors feel helpless living with the disabilities that follow.

"It's really a shame. We're a society of instant gratification and if we don't get it, we tend to be a bit dismissive. Recovery is really slow, and that's the thing that gets most people, They just plain give up."

He hopes his book can deliver one simple message: there is hope.

"As a stroke survivor, you need to tell the therapist what needs to be done. You know what's working and what isn't. If you do that, you'll make progress ... little steps, but they all add up."

With files from CBC's North by Northwest


To listen to the full interview, click on the audio labelled: 'They're little steps, but they all add up': Stroke survivor sends a message of hope in new book