Our Story

Photo of Paul and Stephanie at a waterfall in Iceland, 2019

Paul and Stephanie at a waterfall in Iceland, 2019

I am Paul Berger and I live with my wife, Stephanie Mensh, in Bethesda, Maryland, a suburb of Washington, D.C.  I survived a stroke at the young age of 36. In the years since, I have focused my positive energies on setting goals and following my dreams.

I built Positive Power Publishing with Stephanie, and have published six books, articles, newsletters and a website, and have made many presentations to stroke groups, families, professionals, and other interested organizations.

I was born and raised in Philadelphia, graduated with a B.A. from Drexel University. I continued my studies earning an M.A. at the New School in New York City, then an M.B.A. at Marymount University in Arlington, Virginia. Then, I suffered a ruptured aneurysm and a stroke causing speech problems (aphasia), losing the use of my right hand, and weakness in my right leg causing problems in walking.

I lost my job as a project coordinator for the D.C. housing and development agency because I could not write or talk on a professional level.  But, I did not give up.  I continued speech, occupational, and physical therapy while I worked at part time clerical jobs.

Then, I decided to return to school to learn a trade.  I earned a certificate in Architectural Drafting, started a new career, and worked full time drafting blueprints for a building engineering company for five years.

We love to travel.  After my stroke, we continued to travel to places in the U.S. and other countries, by being a little creative, planning ahead, being flexible, and finding ways to manage my disabilities. We traveled to Ireland, Wales, England, Spain, Portugal, Canada, New Zealand, Australia (twice), Singapore, and Iceland.

Photo of Paul and Stephanie at the Independence Day party at the Homestead resort, Hot Springs, VA, 2019

Paul and Stephanie at the Independence Day party at the Homestead resort, Hot Springs, VA, 2019

photo of Paul and Stephanie at a botanical garden in Singapore, 2018

Paul and Stephanie at a botanical garden in Singapore, 2018

I also continued my hobby, model trains. I had a model train layout in my basement. Some members of the local model club helped me build and wire the table. I built all the buildings and scenery with one hand using different tools and a lot of patience. Today, I build Lego models of the U.S. space program vehicles.

I realized that there were many books on stroke recovery, but they only covered the first year or two after the stroke. To show others that you can overcome disabilities to live a full and rewarding life over many years, I wrote my book, How to Conquer the World With One Hand…And an Attitude. I drew from my weekly journal, an exercise I started a few months after my stroke as part of speech therapy. Stephanie helped to write and edit, and let me use some of her notes.

Soon after the book was first published in 1999, I was honored to win the coveted Award for Individual Achievement from the National Council of Communicative Disorders. The ceremony was at the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC, and supported by Annie Glenn, the wife of the Senator and former astronaut John Glenn. I was thrilled to meet him in person that night. Also that year, we were both honored by the General Assembly of Virginia.

Over the years, we have served on the boards of various organizations advocating for people with disabilities. We had co-chaired Operation Stroke’s Community Education Committee, a program jointly sponsored by Inova Health System, Virginia and the American Heart Association mid-Atlantic affiliate, aimed at raising awareness of the warning signs and risk factors for stroke. We had served on the Editorial Review Board of the American Stroke Association’s magazine, Stroke Connection, and on the Executive Board of the National Aphasia Association.

We serve on the Consumer Advisory Committee of the Stroke Comeback Center in Vienna, Virginia, and chaired its 10th anniversary gala. I’m an active member of the Rotary Club of Vienna, Virginia. When I had participated in a local Toastmasters club, I had achieved Certified Toast Master certification. Toastmasters is a nice way for stroke survivors to practice talking to others, organize your thoughts, and say things in a clear way. I also participate in local stroke survivor support groups.

I have many interests, including politics and policies. Since we live near Washington, DC, over the years we have visited Congressional offices and government agencies to advocate for stroke and other issues. For a few years, I participated in citizen advocates for privatizing the space industry.

Over the years, we have appeared on national broadcasts of PBS Healthweek and American Family on Good Life TV, and on NBC-4-DC, and Fox-5-DC.

In 2019, we celebrated the 20th anniversary of How to Conquer the World With One Hand…And An Attitude, which continues to inspire hope and motivation among readers around the world.

Today, I continue to have physical therapy about twice a month, participate in classes at the Stroke Comeback Center, attend my Rotary Club meetings, and participate in local lectures and clubs to learn new things and socialize.

My wife Stephanie has supported me over the years. In the same shocking instant that I suffered my stroke, she was thrust into the role of personal caregiver and patient advocate. Since then, we have both thrived due to teamwork, communication, and Stephanie’s caregiving mantra:
(1) push the survivor to be as independent as possible;
(2) do what you (the caregivers) do best; and
(3) ask for or hire help.

Stephanie retired recently from a long career in health policy and advocacy, having published numerous articles, managed complex projects, conferences, and other activities in her professional field. She served on the Fairfax, Virginia Human Services Council and the Montgomery County, Maryland Board of Social Services. She holds a B.A. in Political Science and English from The American University, Washington, DC, and a Masters Degree in Public Administration, Finance, George Mason University, Fairfax, Virginia. She was raised in Silver Spring, Maryland.

Stephanie has won recognition for her caregiving advocacy, provided testimony on stroke caregiving to government agencies, and wrote our e-book, Conquering Stroke and Aphasia for Caregivers.

Together, Stephanie and I manage Positive Power Publishing and StrokeSurvivor.com to publish and promote our books, newsletters, presentations, and website. Positive Power Publishing is dedicated to inspiring people with disabilities to live a full life and showing the world that having a disability does not mean giving up.

My story is a compelling example of the can-do attitude and accomplishments that many people with disabilities offer.