NEW HAVEN, Conn. — For many years Lasalle Blanks greeted our Daybreak viewers every morning on 13News Now. He's been called a one-man pep rally, and hype man for anyone struggling through difficult times.
But a few years after he left us to report the news in his hometown of New Haven, Connecticut, Sal had a massive stroke.
Today, he's showing everyone that the comeback is greater than the setback.
In many ways, he’s still the same old Sal, a man with a hearty laugh and a spirit of fellowship. In other ways, he's a better version of himself, greeting each day with a new sense of purpose and meaning.
"Thank you, God, for keeping me here because I'm not going to squander the second opportunity I've been given. I know I'm lucky, and I know I'm fortunate," Sal told me as I tagged along on one of his regular therapy sessions.
On November 8, 2021, Sal woke up slurring his words. He was unable to stand up. He had no feeling on his left side. He was rushed to Yale New Haven Hospital.
"One paramedic told me that had I not gone to the hospital that morning, I would have been dead that night," he said, reflecting on that dark day.
With pandemic protocols restricting visitors, Sal would send encouraging videos to his mom from his hospital bed.
"The biggest fear I had was not being there for my Mom, and that's what helped me to stay alive because I didn't want my Mom to be worried and scared and crying," Sal said.
Three days a week, Sal works to regain the strength he lost on his left side. What he's accomplished with the help of therapists in the months since his stroke is nothing short of amazing.
"I don't focus on what I've lost. I focus on what I've gained. I'm going to spend the rest of my life spreading that message," Sal told me with a sense of purpose.
During our visit, Sal reunited with Katie, his Occupational Therapist. Early on, Katie taught him how to get out of bed and to dress himself. Hugs and laughter filled the room.
Sal also reconnected with Stephanie, his Speech Pathologist. She helped him to learn to speak again and to laugh again. After his stroke, Sal's diet consisted largely of things like pureed catfish. Stephanie helped Sal meet his craving for shrimp.
Whether it's extra reps on the stationary bike, or accepting the challenge to play a board game, Sal's therapists say his competitiveness drives his comeback.
I asked Sal what he's learned about himself as he's worked through all of this:
"I've learned to slow things down and be patient. I've had people say, 'I'm sorry you've had a stroke,' and as strange as it sounds, I'm not sorry. The love I've gotten back from a lot of people in Hampton Roads, it's really showing me that there is good in the world," Sal told me with confidence in his voice.
Sal says his hope is to run again someday. For now, it's walks along the water, or in the park, sometimes with his Mom at his side. It's a time for him to reflect on the gift he's been given, and on how he can use it to inspire others.