Stroke doesn’t stop these feet from dancing

Posted on February 23, 2011

Bobbie, left, and Buck Catlin demonstrate their dance moves for the camera. The two have been dancing together for more than 60 years. Their quick response to stroke symptoms Buck was showing got him help fast enough so he could get back to dancing quickly. (Photo by Nuran Alteir)

Buck Catlin, 93, has had many roles in his life – Navy sailor, mayor of Fullerton, instructor at Fullerton Junior College, chair of the Orange County Sanitation Board, family man – but being a dancer was one thing that stuck through it all.

Even after a stroke last February, Catlin returned to the dance floor just a week after being released from the hospital. His quick recovery and lifestyle have made Catlin a success story for St. Jude Medical Center’s stroke program.

Hospital officials said Catlin was only able to return to the dance floor because he and his wife took his stroke symptoms seriously, so doctors were able to assist him quickly.

“Buck treated his symptoms as a medical emergency, so he was able to receive lifesaving treatment that helped to reverse the stroke symptoms,” said Sara Williams, a nurse and director of Care Transitions at St. Jude Medical Center. “Because he did that, because he treated it as a medical emergency, he can go back to his life the way it was, and do the things he enjoys doing, which includes dancing with his wife.”

Using his story, St. Jude Medical Center is educating the public to treat stroke symptoms, like Catlin’s, as a medical emergency when they occur.

“People tend to minimize stroke symptoms because there’s no pain involved,” Williams said. “So if you’re having a heart attack, you have chest pain. When you’re having a stroke, you a lot of the time have no pain. It’s like, OK, my arm doesn’t feel right, but let me see if this goes away.”

Now, Catlin and his wife are dancing every Thursday at the Phoenix Club in Anaheim just as they did before Catlin had the stroke.

Catlin talks about the power dancing has to bring people together.

“Dancing is a very good mixer, no matter where you go, socially,” Catlin said.

One dance in particular changed his life forever; he found his wife and dancing partner of 62 years.

“The first night I met him, he picked me up, put me up on his left, then put me over his head, then under his feet, so I said, ‘This is for me, you know, this is great,'” Bobbie Catlin said of the couple’s first dance. “He was such a good dancer, and I fell for him.”

They met at a dance held by Punahou School in Honolulu, Hawaii, where Buck Catlin was asked to bring officers to dance with new teachers, including Bobbie Catlin.

“It was a romantic setting to begin with,” Bobbie Catlin said.

Buck Catlin said he owes most of his dancing skills to the United States Naval Academy where he danced almost every Saturday night.

“It was a good place to meet girls,” he said.

However, he learned how to lead from his mother.

“My mother told me the most important thing when you lead is your hands,” he said while demonstrating the proper posture.

Still leading, he missed only two dances while in the hospital recovering from his stroke.

“If you’re a dancer, it’s sort of natural,” he said. “You don’t notice any symptoms. You might be a little bit slower. One thing I do notice, if I do a cha-cha, I’m a bit slower.”

But Bobbie Catlin said that might just be from age.

Recognizing a stroke

If you’re with someone you suspect is experiencing a stroke, use the FAST method:

  • Face droop: Ask the person to smile. Does one side of the face droop?
  • Arm lift: Ask the person to raise both arms. Does one arm drift downward?
  • Speech slurred: Ask the person to repeat a simple sentence. Do the words sound slurred or strange?
  • Time to call 911 if you notice any of these symptoms.

You can visit for more information about stroke.
(Source: St. Jude Medical Center)

Originally published in the Orange County Register.

Posted in: Features, News