Naperville man feels “off” at fitness center, survives brain hemorrhage

March 06, 2018 | by Edward-Elmhurst Health
Categories: Healthy Driven Heroes

There’s a fine line between being uncomfortable while working out and something being wrong. You just have to pay attention.

This is the lesson Bill Thompson, 47, of Naperville learned on Oct. 28, 2015. He sensed something was off as he finished a grueling workout at Edward-Elmhurst Health & Fitness.

His trainer gave him a hard look as he got up from the leg press.

“He said, ‘Are you okay?’ I said, ‘I just don’t feel very good.’ I was feeling a little nauseous,” Thompson says. He walked quickly to the men’s locker room where he threw up.

“I sat down at my locker and tried to decide whether I just wasn’t feeling well from working out so hard or if something was wrong,” he says.

The ill feeling was unfamiliar enough that Thompson decided to alert a manager instead of going home to rest.

He continued to get sick in Fitness Coordinator Carol Teteak’s office. Teteak and Fitness Center Manager Steve Thurston recognized that Thompson wasn’t suffering from overexertion, and Thurston called 911.

The call saved Thompson’s life.

The journey to fitness

Thompson is a regular at the fitness center, having started working out less than 10 years ago to lose weight and get fit. When he first started, he weighed 195 pounds.

“I could barely keep up with my kids when they were younger,” Thompson says. “If I could help it, I didn’t want that to be their memory of me from when they were kids.  I wanted to be active with them.”

For Christmas, his wife gave him a gift certificate for a fitness trainer she knew. Thompson started working out and eating healthier.

His first experience jogging on a treadmill ended within two minutes from out-of-shape exertion. The process wasn’t easy, but the challenge of improving his fitness was motivating. Thompson went from couch potato to gym regular.

“I went from barely being able to run for two minutes to running 3-5 minute sprints,” says Thompson, who has whittled his weight to 165. “I got hooked on meeting goals. That’s what really happened. I got hooked on successfully doing exercises and fitness challenges that, at one point, I couldn’t do very well or in some cases, at all. Once you see progress, it’s like, ‘This really works’ and that motivates you to keep going.”


Thompson was used to the feeling of pushing himself physically, and the sickness he felt that day in 2015 wasn’t from overexertion. A blood vessel in Thompson’s brain had burst while he was finishing his workout, and blood had been leaking out into the space between his brain and his skull – a subarachnoid hemorrhage.

The best-case scenario for someone with a subarachnoid hemorrhage: the bleeding stops and the burst vessel heals. Worst-case: brain damage with paralysis, coma or death.

When Thompson arrived by ambulance at the Edward Hospital Emergency Department, it was looking like a worst-case scenario.

“The doctor told my wife to get my kids and make sure they saw me that night because they weren’t sure I’d make it through the night. They were 16 and 14,” he says.

But Thompson made it through the night and was moved to the Intensive Care Unit where doctors kept a close eye out for new bleeding or other complications. He was released from the hospital two weeks later. Thompson credits his fitness level for his relatively quick recovery.

He wasn’t 100 percent when he went home, however. He struggled while his brain regained its ability to process his environment.

“When you have a brain injury, thinking becomes tiring,” Thompson says. “I don’t think people really realize how much energy it takes to use your brain. Things like flashing lights or noise, like in a restaurant, all that processing that your brain does to keep it all straight, that was exhausting.”

Lessons learned on the road to recovery

As his healing progressed, things became easier. He started workouts again — stationary bike cardio. That eventually progressed to light weights, bodyweight exercises and boxing.
“I’m very conscious about not pushing too much weight and proper breathing,” Thompson says.

Pushing yourself (within reason) in fitness is good. So is self-awareness. Be conscious of how you feel after a hard workout so you can recognize potential red flags, Thompson advises.

“If something doesn’t feel right, don’t do it,” Thompson says.

“If you feel funny after a hard workout, and it’s not a way you’ve ever felt before, talk to someone. If I had gone home and gone to bed, I probably wouldn’t be here right now,” he says. “Don’t be embarrassed. If you feel like something’s wrong, say something.”

Whether your goal is to run your tenth marathon or walk 10 feet across the room, our medically-based fitness centers and professional trainers and staff will help you reach your Healthy Driven goals. Learn more.

Learn more about neurosciences at Edward-Elmhurst Health.


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