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FROM TV ANCHOR TO ADVOCATE FOR STROKE PREVENTION

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Mark McEwen, the affable television weatherman who had 16 years with the CBS morning show and who once was listed among the 10 most trusted people in the industry by TV Guide, was twice a contestant on "Celebrity Jeopardy." He won it both times, too - an impressive accomplishment even if Cheech Marin and Rob Schneider were among Mr. McEwen's opponents.

So, the other night, while we're talking on the phone about the stroke that ended Mr. McEwen's television career, he asks if I like trivia. I say sure and throw some baseball at him.

Mark McEwen, 55, counts Bob Gibson, the Hall of Fame pitcher, among the many friends he accumulated over the years as a regular on "The Early Show" on CBS. I ask him to name the St. Louis Cardinals lineup behind Gibson in the 1967 World Series against the Red Sox.

He gets the catcher, Tim McCarver. He gets the outfielders: Curt Flood, Lou Brock and Roger Maris. He gets first base, Orlando Cepeda, and third base, Mike Shannon, but he stumbles between second and third (Julian Javier and Dal Maxvill).

Still, that's pretty good.

In the moment, it seems as if Mr. McEwen is testing himself a little, or maybe he just wants to demonstrate that, some physical flaws aside - halting speech, a right hand still not back to full power - stroke has not defeated him.

In 2005, he suffered a kind of massive stroke that, a specialist told him, kills 9 out of 10 people. He's been on the road to recovery since, through rehabilitation, learning how to walk and talk again. He's written a book about his experiences. He's on his way to becoming a national spokesman for the effort to get more Americans to recognize the warning signs of stroke.

He's doing this, Mr. McEwen says, because a Maryland doctor missed his.

Four years ago, after visiting his family in Maryland - Mr. McEwen's brother, Kirk, has been one of Baltimore's top radio personalities, and his father still resides in Anne Arundel County - he felt nauseated and dizzy while awaiting a flight back to Florida.

Paramedics were called and transported him to the emergency room of Baltimore Washington Medical Center. There, Mr. McEwen says, an emergency room doctor concluded that he had a stomach flu and advised against travel for a couple of days.

By then, Mr. McEwen was no longer with CBS. He had become the main news anchor at WKMG-TV in Orlando. November was an important ratings month, and Mr. McEwen was eager to get back to Florida, back to work and back to his family - his wife, Denise, and four children.

Still, he heeded the doctor's advice and waited two days before flying home.

He suffered the stroke in midair.

"I left for that trip an anchorman," Mr. McEwen says, "and when I came back, I was in the hospital."

He has not been able to work since.

He hired an attorney, Daniel Cotter, who filed a negligence suit in federal court in Baltimore against the doctor and Baltimore Washington Medical Center. The suit claimed the stroke could have been prevented had the ER doctor spotted the warning signs and had he prescribed anti-clotting drugs.

(In a deposition in the case, the emergency room doctor said paramedics never told him that Mr. McEwen also had experienced slurred speech, another warning sign for stroke.)

Last month, U.S. District Court Judge J. Frederick Motz ruled against Mr. McEwen. The judge found that aspirin and other anti-coagulant drugs would not have been effective enough in the short term to change the outcome for Mr. McEwen, according to an Associated Press story.

Receiving the news that his case would not proceed to trial, Mr. McEwen was stunned. "I couldn't believe it," he says. "The night I got that news was a long night for me. I couldn't sleep. I couldn't believe that I wouldn't get a chance to tell my story before a jury. What did I do wrong? ... A doctor told me I had a stomach flu. I believed him."

He's not finished with the matter - he's filed an appeal of Judge Motz's ruling - and he's not finished with the new mission: spreading the word that stroke can be prevented if more Americans, starting with doctors, recognize the warning signs. "And something else," Mr. McEwen says. "Stroke isn't something that happens to others - to our parents or grandparents. It can happen to any of us."

Dan Rodricks' column appears Thursdays and Sundays in print and online, and Tuesdays online-only. He is host of the Midday talk show on WYPR-FM.

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