Faces of Stroke Ambassador: Karen

Faces of Stroke Ambassador: KarenKaren Ballou met her late husband, Harold Swartz, in 1998 at work. Harold was a retired army staff sergeant, an active member of the Contra Costa County Sheriff Reserve and an employee in the security department of a national lab in California. What started out as a friendship ended up in marriage in 2005.

A few years after they met, Harold was diagnosed with atrial fibrillation (Afib). After getting his Afib under control with medications, he and Karen enjoyed spending time with family, traveling, dancing and taking long walks. It was important to Harold to maintain his quality of life and he was not going to let Afib slow him down. With Harold’s upbeat attitude, he and Karen married and went on with their life together.

On Aug. 9, 2006, Karen returned home from work to find Harold on the floor, unable to speak clearly or move his left side. After Harold was transferred to a trauma center, Karen was informed that he had suffered a stroke. Although initially it was touch and go, after several weeks in hospitals and a rehab center, Harold got to go home. He once again was able to speak, walk without a cane and interact with people. The major side effect of his stroke was impaired judgment and impulse control—his logic was “broken.”

It took a “village” to help Harold and Karen in the form of many concerned friends and co-workers. After Harold’s stroke, Karen continued to work but also became Harold’s caregiver. She took charge of running the house and the finances and became actively involved in Harold’s recovery.

Sadly, Harold passed away due to complications after open heart surgery on Aug. 31, 2009. Today she honors her late husband by raising awareness about Afib and its connection to stroke.