Last month was both Stroke Awareness Month and the one year anniversary of the publication of Family Don’t End With Blood, the book written by the cast and fans of Supernatural. So this is a perfect time to chat with Supernatural actor and Louden Swain frontman Rob Benedict (Chuck/God) about the powerful chapter he wrote in the book. In his chapter, Rob takes us through every tension-filled moment of the stroke he had while at a Supernatural convention in Toronto several years ago and how the SPNFamily got him through it. I knew when Rob sent me the story to include that it was going to make readers cry (in a good way) and that it was going to inspire people – but I didn’t know that it was going to literally save lives.
That’s exactly what happened though.
At a Supernatural convention this spring, a fan approached the vendor table for Family Don’t End With Blood and said she had something to tell me. I’ve heard so many wonderful stories about how the stories shared in the book have inspired someone to keep going, or given them the courage to make changes in their lives, or helped them feel okay being who they are for the first time. When the fan standing at my table got emotional, I expected to hear a similar story.
“The Supernatural fandom and this book,” she said, “saved my life.”
Not in the way I expected, however. Patty Barbera had read Family Don’t End With Blood, and Rob’s chapter, in which he shares his experience having a serious stroke at the Toronto convention, had really stood out for her. Shortly before the convention, she was getting ready for bed when her hand started to go numb. The numbness slowly moved up her arm, and then there was a pain in the back of her head and her whole right side went numb. The right side of her face began to droop. She began having trouble speaking. Because she had just read Rob’s chapter, which details what happened during his stroke, Patty immediately realized she was having a stroke. She screamed for her husband, and they drove to the hospital – where a CT Scan showed that she was indeed having a stroke – the type referred to as a “TIA” or mini stroke. Even more alarmingly, her scans showed that it was not the first one.
As she told me her story, she began to cry – but they were good tears. She was healthy enough now to attend the convention and thank Rob herself (and has since made remarkable progress and is almost fully recovered)
“If I hadn’t read this book, I probably would have ignored everything and went to bed, most likely damaging my brain. But because of this book and Rob’s story, I’m back to my old self with minimal damage,” Patty said.
I felt my own eyes well up, and we shared a few tissues together.
Patty’s powerful story was a reminder of why we all wrote Family Don’t End With Blood – we wanted to make a difference. The actors who wrote chapters and the fans who wrote chapters all wanted to share their very personal stories in the hopes that others would be inspired and impacted by what they wrote.
That was certainly the case for Patty with Rob’s chapter. Shortly after I met Patty, I sat down with Rob to ask about why he wanted to contribute to the book and what the response has been to his story. In keeping with the important messages of Rob and Patty, we’ve included a summary of the warning signs of stroke at the end of this article – you can read the entire account of Rob’s very emotional experience in his chapter of Family Don’t End With Blood.
Lynn: You wrote a really personal chapter in Family Don’t End With Blood, taking readers through every moment of your experience when you had a stroke at a convention several years ago. What made you want to share your story?
Rob: It’s almost easier for me to express myself through writing. And I felt the need to re-visit the experience and take all of it back into my consciousness, and to try to account for what happened. In my recovery I read an amazing memoir called Brain On Fire, in which the author Susannah Calahan tracks her own journey through a debilitating virus that attacked her brain. I was inspired by that. I am inspired to put all of this in a book someday, but this chapter was a place to start. It was incredibly therapeutic.
Lynn: Was it challenging to be that personal and share your own vulnerability?
Rob: Not really – I mean the fear of getting too personal is always a road block, but it’s one I like to push out of the way. I do it a lot with my song lyrics. At times, singing my songs is like reading my diary out loud. It’s terrifying! BUT I am motivated by that fear. I dare myself to speak the truth. I think there’s something incredibly confident, or robust, about expressing one’s own insecurities and fear. I’ve said it before on stage when I sing songs like She Waits, but there is something about this fandom that makes me feel safe to express myself. I feel like there’s an unspoken connection, especially by the end of a convention weekend. So I did also feel that when I wrote this – that it wouldn’t fall on judgmental ears.