Tom Powderly was working as an electronics technician in October 1990 when he had a stroke at age 28. He returned to work the next year without any physical deficits, but his short-term memory problems interfered, and he was fired.
He decided to go back to school. With accommodations like taking tests in a quiet room, he earned a bachelor’s degree at the University of Missouri at Kansas City.
Then he started work on a graduate degree in rehabilitation therapy at Emporia State University in Kansas. He wanted to help other stroke survivors find work. “I had 43 of the 60 hours I needed for my degree when they asked me to leave the program because I had problems with my short-term memory. It was terrible. In my practicum interviews with clients, I couldn’t remember what someone had said just five minutes before.”
After that experience, the Missouri native found a job as the night supervisor of a juvenile jail. “It ended up that there was not a lot for me to do but clean the jail, and I didn’t want to be a janitor.”
Tom didn’t think he could make it in the fast-paced working world. He decided instead to stay on disability and help take care of his parents, who are getting older. Today, at 42, he works 10–20 hours a week for a rental car company where he moves cars between St. Louis and Kansas City.
Stroke changes things, and some limitations simply can’t be overcome. Problems with memory are a special challenge that distinctly limits opportunities. “I think you just have to be honest with yourself and make the most out of life with the limitations you have,” Tom says.