SAN FRANCISCO (KPIX) – When Bay Area sports talk radio station KGMZ “95.7 The Game” landed the rights to broadcast Golden State Warriors basketball games last August, drive-time host Damon Bruce figured he would be a busy guy once the NBA playoffs rolled around.
Instead the 42-year-old was in the middle of a 22-day stint at California Pacific Medical Center recovering from a stroke suffered in the pons region on his brain.
“At 42-years-old, I think I’m still way too young to have a stroke,” said Bruce who has resumed his fulltime work schedule after being off the air for over a month.
Bruce began his Bay Area radio career in 2005 on KNBR’s sister station KTCT before migrating to “95.7 The Game” in 2014. He’s one of the few local sports talk hosts who works without an official partner.
Update anchor Gianna Franco is a regular contributor on the show, and Bruce often refers to her as his “radio wife” on the air.
“It’s a great relationship,” said Franco.
In late April, Bruce and Franco were digging in for a long stretch of covering Warriors playoff games when Bruce woke up one morning feeling off-kilter.
“I went to send an email to my producer, and I noticed my left arm and fingers weren’t firing on the keyboard the way they normally do,” said Bruce. “And for the very first time in my life I did not want to prepare for my show.”
While his show was on the air, Bruce sat in the emergency room and was told he had suffered a stroke. He spent the night in the hospital, but felt well enough to leave the next morning for rest on his couch.
“I watched the first couple picks of the NFL draft that day,” said Bruce. “That’s when I felt a fog start to overcome my body.”
A day after he initially suffered the stroke, Bruce experienced paralysis on the left side of his body. He returned to the hospital and stayed there for over three weeks.
According to the American Stroke Association, 20-45 percent of patients have affected speech. Even though Bruce couldn’t move his left extremities, he felt like he had dodged a bullet.
“If I had a stroke that affected my speech, I would have been left devastated, questioning if I could return to my job or be able to provide for my family,” he said.
He notices slight changes in his speech, but nothing that would be picked up by his listeners. Plus the motor function on his left side is still weaker than his right.
Bruce celebrated his six month anniversary with his wife Gillian in a CPMC hospital bed while he worked with doctors and therapists to get back on his feet.
“If you told me a monkey slapping my face would make me feel better, I’d say bring in the monkey,” he joked.
The monkey was never needed, and Bruce hit his self-imposed deadline for return to the airwaves – Game 1 of the NBA Finals.
“He’s like the rock of our show,” said Franco. “Something happening to Damon was devastating for all of us.”
The cause of his stroke has been blamed on a less than healthy lifestyle. Bruce speaks freely about his old habits, and rips his poor health as if it was a topic on his show.
“It was my fault through not managing my blood pressure, not managing my cholesterol, always ordering the fries and never the salad,” he said.
Like a bad caller, all of that has been flushed away.
“I thought my high blood pressure made me better at my job – maybe a little bit more fiery,” he said. “I was wrong. Get your blood pressure checked.”