Never give up
Young adult stroke survivor who inspires others by leading by example
At age 37, I envisioned my whole life ahead of me as I was planning my wedding to Michael, the man of my dreams. I was successful in my career in sales as an Account Manager at a golf resort in sunny Southern California. For fun, I was physically active playing co-ed softball, golf, and tennis. My life would quickly change in an instant. One quiet morning, I would leave my old life as I knew it and begin a new journey in life as a stroke survivor.
Four months prior to my wedding, I had a hemorrhagic stroke causing paralysis on my left side. I had no known stroke risk factors. Blood pressure was normal, healthy cholesterol, didn't do drugs, not on birth control pills, and was not overweight. I was a medical mystery they say and could not determine what caused my stroke.
On Friday morning March 2, 2007 while making breakfast, I started to describe to Michael that I was feeling dizzy along with that strange feeling that you could pass out. Warning sign #1.
As I sat on the couch, I felt immediate fatigue and an extreme headache. Warning sign #2. As I got up and started to walk again, I described to Michael that I was looking down at my left foot but I could not feel it. Warning sign #3. The sensation quickly traveled up the left side of my body. I could not feel it. It was like it went to sleep without the pins and needles feeling. Something was terribly wrong. "Help me!" I exclaimed. He looked at me and asked me to smile. He could see the left side of my facial muscles were not equal to my right side. Warning sign #4.
He said to me, "Karen, everything you're telling me says you're having a stroke!" All of this took less than 5 minutes.
We wasted to time to the emergency room. A CT Scan revealed a pool of blood in my brain. I was having a hemorrhagic stroke.
The stroke took my lower left quadrant vision, without feeling on my entire left side, spasticity in my left hand so no fine motor skills, and I had to learn to walk again so I have a slight limp and pain. With hard work, determination, and complete love and support from my husband Michael, I was able to walk down the aisle four months later on our wedding day.
Working on my physical recovery, I pushed myself with goals beyond what I thought was possible. However, I'm still challenged with physical difficulties with my left foot/ankle. It started with a 5K (3.1 miles) one year after my stroke. I felt like I had to train for that like it was a marathon because to me it was. Since then, I've completed quite a few 5K's. I expanded my limits and completed a couple of 10K's (6.2 miles). My greatest challenge yet was completing a half marathon last summer (13.1 miles). I have my sights set on my second half marathon this summer. My wall is covered with race bib numbers and medals for inspiration.
Who knows. I may even take up hiking so I may join my husband Michael and tackle something we see every day here in the Pacific Northwest - Mt. Rainier. I don't limit myself. Most of us let the fear of not succeeding at something, hold us back from trying. Keep pushing yourself to the next finish line. There's no end to our potential.
During my journey on the road to recovery, I started a support group for young adult stroke survivors called facebook.com/Reclaiming Ourselves. I volunteer my time by doing public speaking throughout my community about the warning signs of stroke and educate others on controllable risk factors in order to save lives. As part of the Stroke Advocacy Network, I advocate for the 7 million stroke survivors in the country sharing information with elected officials about healthcare and other public policies and the impact their votes have on stroke survivors and caregivers.
Please, make it your mission to educate yourself on the warning signs of stroke so you can be there for the ones you love. And make it your mission to educate the ones you love so they can be there for you.
Karen Dionne, Age 37 stroke survivor