June 16 is special to Harry Jordan. He didn’t meet his wife on that date; nor is it the birth date of one of his children. Rather, he calls June 16, 2009, his “second birthday” because that’s the day he decided to prove a doctor wrong.

Jordan had just woken up from his 16th brain surgery in a year (you read that right), completely numb on his left side—from the bottom of his foot all the way up to the top of his shoulder. The doctor told him he’d had a stroke during surgery and would never again lead a normal life.

Jordan had developed an arteriovenous malformation a year earlier after suffering a seizure and had been undergoing monthly brain surgeries to treat it. Having a stroke was always a danger, but it didn’t hit home until it finally happened.

Healthy and Strong

It was then Jordan made a decision that would change his life. “Instead of this stuff making me bitter,” he recalls thinking, “it’s going to make me better.”

Jordan asked the nurse for a squeeze ball and began squeezing it in his left hand. He started working out in the hospital gym that day. And when he got home, he started going to the local YMCA by himself. “People were looking at me like I was crazy,” Jordan says. “They’d say, ‘You just had brain surgery!’ And I’d be like, ‘What’s your point?’ ”

Now, four years later, Jordan runs a stroke support group at the University of Illinois Hospital. He’s a muscular 250 pounds, down from a flabby 297. He went from no strength in his left leg to leg-pressing 2,000 pounds and bench pressing 460. Every step of the way he’s been guided by instinct, YouTube, and Muscle & Fitness magazine. “The more I worked out, the better I felt,” he says.