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Stroke Smart Magazine

July/August 2007

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Champion of Hope: Dina Pagnotta

By Jane Sims

On a beautiful day in May 2002, Dina Pagnotta was waiting for her Pilates class to begin. Suddenly, an odd sensation spread throughout her body. She couldn't speak or swallow. Pagnotta, an active 30-year old, was having a stroke. Although her symptoms went away a few hours later, the stroke left a lasting impact on her young life.

“My stroke made me realize how fragile life can be,” said Pagnotta. “Just because you're young it doesn't mean you're invincible and that a stroke can't touch you.” An avid runner, Pagnotta had been training for her first marathon before her stroke.

“Everything happens for a reason,” said Pagnotta, now 35. “Stroke is a major global health problem that affects people of all ages. It requires questions and answers, and it requires change. The change that has occurred in my life has encouraged me to pose questions, seek resolution, and strive to affect change in the lives of others.”

The last thing Pagnotta expected that spring morning five years ago was a stroke. “It came out of nowhere,” said Pagnotta, who had no known risk factors and no family history of stroke. Although doctors were not certain what caused her stroke, Pagnotta's medical evaluations revealed that she had two previously undiagnosed heart defects. One of these defects, an incomplete closure in the wall between the two upper chambers, might have enabled a blood clot to pass through Pagnotta's heart and travel to her brain. Called a patent foramen ovale, or PFO, this condition occurs in one out of five Americans. But it doesn’t always lead to stroke.

After her rapid recovery, Pagnotta was determined to get right back to her active life, which included her work as a physical therapist and running for fitness. However, after her near brush with death, running had a new meaning. Just two years later, with support from family, friends and coworkers, Pagnotta ran 26.2 miles in the 2004 New York Marathon to celebrate her own life and to raise money for stroke awareness. She raised almost $7,000 for National Stroke Association that year.

“Stroke is the number three killer in this country and the number one cause of disabilities,” said Pagnotta. “Considering the fact that 80 percent of strokes are preventable, I wanted to do something to change the statistics, something that would have an impact, and I wanted to make a difference for people [who] had gone through what I had or who hadn't been as fortunate as I [was].”

Pagnotta's commitment to stroke awareness and education remains strong. She moderates a young stroke survivor group at the Rusk Institute of Rehabilitation Medicine at the New York University Medical Center, where she also works in physical rehabilitation.

With her upbeat attitude, Pagnotta continues to inspire stroke survivors, both young and old. “I tell people to focus on the gains they've made and [on] what they're capable of,” she said. “It's important to look at the positive aspects of their lives and to never give up hope.”


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National Stroke Association’s mission is to reduce the incidence and impact of stroke by developing compelling education and programs focused on prevention, treatment, rehabilitation and support for all impacted by stroke.

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