My Aunt Dorthea had her first stroke at the age of 42 in 1998. I was a junior in college and didn’t realize the severity of the situation nor the strength it was going to take her to survive and thrive, but that she did, and she continues to be one of the strongest women I know. Sunday, December 3rd was International Day of Persons with Disabilities and I wanted to celebrate the person she is today and talk about the disability, that while a part of who she is, does not define her.
A little background. My Aunt Dorthea is the youngest of three children. My mother, Marilyn, was the middle child and caregiver for us all. My mother died suddenly from heart disease at the age of 55 in 2003. My uncle has also had heart issues. Yes, our family is keenly aware we have a predisposition to heart disease and stroke that is likely in our genes or some really bad luck. But back to my Aunt Dorthea… She is a fighter. I mean that in her fight to recover from stroke and her ability to probably throw a good punch. Many might have said “I will just lay down and let this stroke beat me,” but she fought back with tears, frustration and the support of our family to become the woman she is today. She is thriving, and while some visible signs of stroke exist, she can be found caring her for grandchildren or her garden any day of the week.
Aunt Dorthea and my mom, Marilyn Hogue
She has had subsequent strokes that have caused setbacks, but she again persevered. She will tell you that her first stroke at such a young age was largely due to her smoking habit where she even smoked inside the rural Arkansas grocery story she owned. Yes, in the recent past that was legal. Folks could smoke while purchasing their zucchini. Her body was not only harmed by her own choice but by the choices of others in her store who were exposing her to their second-hand smoke. It seems crazy to think about people being allowed to smoke in a grocery store or on an airplane, but even today, the American Heart Association is still fighting for common indoor spaces like bars and restaurants to be smoke-free.
Aunt Dorthea and one of her sweet grandkids, Harper.
I have been told that when I got married I looked at my Aunt Dorthea (post-stroke) and told her I was going to get this right and not be like my crazy Aunt Dorthea and get married several times. Well, most of you know how that turned out. I just want her to know that today and always, I am proud to be just like her. I am a little crazy. I am a fighter. I am strong. And like her, I will continue to advocate for heart-healthy and stroke-smart policies so another family doesn’t have to fight stroke and lose someone they love to heart disease.