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 at my job as a sales representative at a golf resort. 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 life journey 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 March 2, 2007, I started to describe to Michael that I was feeling dizzy and that I could pass out. Warning sign #1. As I sat on the couch, I felt an extreme headache. Warning sign #2. As I got up, I described to Michael that I was looking down at my left foot but I could not feel it. The sensation quickly traveled up the left side of my body. It was like it went to sleep without the pins and needles feeling. Something was terribly wrong. Warning sign #3. “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.
A CT Scan in the ER revealed a pool of blood in my brain. I was having a hemorrhagic stroke.
The stroke took my lower left quadrant vision, 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. With hard work, determination, and complete love and support from Michael, I was able to walk down the aisle four months later on our wedding day.
During my journey on the road to recovery, I started a support group for young adult stroke survivors and our Facebook page is www.facebook.com/reclaimingourselves. As an American Heart Association Go Red For Women Ambassador, I’m an advocate for the 7 million stroke survivors in the country to raise awareness and education of stroke risk factors and warning signs.
May is National Stroke Month. For stroke resources and information on local activities, visit the Puget Sound American Heart Association/American Stroke Association’s website at www.heart.org/pugetsound.