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Meet Survivor, Advocate Tamsen Butler

At age 41 I was just about everything I had hoped to be: an award-winning author, a fitness instructor on my way to becoming a certified personal trainer, and a mother to two ridiculously clever children. A year later at age 42 I’ve added a new designation to my titles as a stroke survivor and advocate for the American Heart Association. 

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My stroke was unexpected. Holes in my heart that I didn’t know I had coupled with a blood clotting disorder I also didn’t know I had joined forces and sent a blood clot to my brain. A morning that started with a trip to the grocery store with my children ended with me in the ICU. My brain was fundamentally damaged, making it difficult for me to understand the gravity of the situation, which is probably why I asked the attending neurologist if I could still plan on teaching my strength class that evening. It was the look of pity everyone around my bed gave me that tipped me off that a huge plot twist had just occurred in my life.

When the dust cleared it quickly became apparent that I couldn’t walk without assistance and I’d lost a great deal of my ability to think things through. I was lucky, though, because my family had called 911 and got me to the hospital quickly enough to where I was eligible for tPA. This likely saved my life and absolutely helped me avoid devastating, long-term disabilities.

The road back to a fully functioning adult was a bumpy one. Recovery from a massive stroke is a profoundly arduous task that I may never fully complete. Eighteen months after my stroke I still have cognitive deficits and a left side that is markedly weaker than my right side.

The bumpy road was not one I had to travel alone, though. My family was there right beside me along the way. I also can’t stress the impact the American Heart Association made on my recovery as they gave me a voice, ushering me out of the role of “stroke victim” into “stroke survivor advocate.” It’s not easy to feel empowered when you feel less than you once were, yet I truly do, largely in part to the AHA.

My life is different but it’s still mine and I embrace every aspect of it. Stroke recovery can feel ridiculously lonely at times but the American Heart Association helps me realize I’m not alone after all. They were not only behind the research that developed the treatments that kept me alive but stood alongside me while I was trying to figure out where I belonged post-stroke.

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