Karen Dionne, Washington
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. I was physically active, for fun I played co-ed softball, golf, and tennis. My life quickly changed in an instant. One quiet morning, I would leave my old life as I knew it behind and begin my life over struggling to survive 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.
On Friday morning March 2, 2007 while making breakfast with my fiancé Michael, I told him that I was feeling dizzy, light headed and I had a severe headache. It felt as if I could pass out. Warning sign #1.
As I sat on the couch, I started to feel immediate fatigue. My head was just not right. It started to hurt more. Warning sign #2.
I got up and started to walk again. However, this time I stop and just stood there. I looked down at my feet in disbelief. 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.
Michael started putting all the pieces of the puzzle together. 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!” This all took less than 5 minutes.
Michael SAVED MY LIFE that day by recognizing that I was having a stroke. There was no doubt in his mind. He wasted no time getting me to the emergency room. A CT Scan revealed I was bleeding in my brain. I was having a hemorrhagic stroke.
The stroke took many things from me including my lower left quadrant vision. It left me without feeling on my entire left side including in my left hand, I had to learn to walk again and I still have a small limp. 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.
I later asked Michael how he knew I was having a stroke. He replied that he read it somewhere but he doesn’t remember where. Only that somewhere he remembered that lifesaving bit of information that he stored in his memory. I say that because everything we do to raise awareness about heart disease and stroke adds up. Even if it’s one person we touch, that one person could save a life someday. And it could be YOUR life. Or YOU could save someone you love.
Social media has been a great tool throughout my recovery efforts. During my journey on the road to recovery, I founded a support group for young adult stroke survivors called facebook.com/Reclaiming Ourselves. Nearly a thousand of young adult stroke survivors from around the world encourage each other online with our goals and successes. We are also available on Twitter @Stroke_Survior, and Pintrest.
I volunteer as a Go Red For Women Ambassador with the American Heart Association. I do public speaking throughout my community educating others about the warning signs of heart disease and stroke and controllable risk factors in order to save lives. As a Go Red For Women Ambassador is not just about heart, it's about stroke too. Our goal as Ambassadors is to raise awareness about heart disease and stroke in order to reduce deaths from these diseases. And the focus is not just about Heart month in February, it's about every month, for every woman, for every life.
Being a voice for the millions of stroke survivors and their families is very important to me. That’s why I’m a You’re The Cure advocate. Recently, I met with our Washington state Governor and other elected officials to discuss tobacco prevention, childhood obesity, safe routes to schools and CPR in schools in order to save lives. It’s easy to be an advocate and the American Heart Association makes it easy.
I was honored to be asked to be on the Board of Directors in the South Sound. It’s another way to give back to my community and support an organization that gives so much to help so many.
Do I still work on my recovery? Every day!! I stay very active with my gym membership. My goal is to work out 4-5 times a week and do physical events such as 5K’s, 10K’s or even half marathons. This year was the second time I completed The Big Climb in Seattle up Columbia Tower (69 flights and 1,311 steps). I believe there is no finish line. I’m always looking for ‘what’s next’ and challenge others to join me.
How do you recognize a stroke? Remember F.A.S.T.
T. Time call 9-1-1 immediately
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, Stroke Survivor
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