Combatives instructor
Sgt. 1st Class Kelly Duncan suffered a stroke at 30, but it didn't keep the Army combatives instructor at Fort Knox, Ky., sidelined for long.

FORT KNOX, Ky. (Army News Service, Sept. 27, 2007) - He suffered a stroke at 30, but Sgt. 1st Class Kelly Duncan's brush with death wasn't due to poor health. In fact, the Army combatives instructor recalls he was probably in the best shape of his life - until the blood clot reached his brain.

Sgt. 1st Class Duncan and his wife were staying in post guest housing, awaiting assignment to permanent quarters when the stroke hit. He was rushed to Ireland Army Community Hospital and then flown by helicopter to a hospital in Lexington, Ky., where doctors discovered he had a congenital heart anomaly, one of the most common causes of strokes in young men and women.

When he came to, Sgt. 1st Class Duncan said he could actually see his ailment live after the medical staff inserted cameras into the affected area and flushed a saline solution into his veins to determine the size of the holes in his heart, a characteristic of the anomaly.

"The bubbles went in one hole and out the other," he said. "They were surprised at how big the holes were."

Doctors were able to insert a catheter into Sgt. 1st Class Duncan's heart, after which tiny umbrella-like seals were pushed through a catheter that opened and closed the holes. Given time, heart tissue will grow over the seals and become part of the heart's normal functioning.

Sgt. 1st Class Duncan spent the next three months on convalescent leave. He needed the time to learn how to communicate again. He didn't have a problem speaking immediately following surgery, but he couldn't respond to his doctor's simple questions - not because he'd forgotten English, but because he'd lost speech mechanics.

At the time of his stroke, Sgt. 1st Class Duncan was training Fort Knox Soldiers in Army combatives and was organizing the installation's first combatives tournament held in April. A level-four instructor, he also continued to train himself.

Following the stroke, the 30-year old was able to remember all he'd learned about fighting, and unlike many stroke victims, he had no problem moving with the speed and agility he'd fought with prior to his stroke.

Sgt. 1st Class Duncan said the fighting and training part wasn't difficult, but the administrative end of organizing training schedules has proved challenging.

"Now I have to keep checking boxes," he said, pointing to a white board on the wall with tasks marked out to the side of small boxes. "I used to be able to memorize all that stuff. The more I have to do, the more I'll get back to being my old self."

Sgt. 1st Class Duncan's Fort Knox team will compete next month in the All-Army Combatives Tournament at Fort Benning, Ga.

(John Neville is the sports editor for the Fort Knox "Turret.")

Page last updated Thu May 3rd, 2012 at 15:09