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Sandra Miller Roberson, Tennessee

 Diagnosed and medicated at the age of 30, I did not understand the seriousness of controlling my high blood pressure.

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I had always heard it was the "silent killer" but really did not believe that pertained to me. After training with a personal trainer and settling in with a healthy diet, I decided a few months later that I no longer needed high blood pressure medicine and stopped refilling my prescription.

Not taking my blood pressure medicine was one of – ok, THE worst decision of my life. Not only did my life change dramatically at age 37, but my careless and selfish decision impacted so many others.

It was a beautiful fall day in 2009 and I was feeling great as I worked out with my trainer. All of the sudden, I was on the gym floor with a massive, exploding headache. My attempts to just go home and rest were thwarted by my friends at the gym, and I found myself in an ambulance on the way to the hospital. My last memory for several weeks was of calling my mom and telling her I was sorry, and that I loved her.

Ruptured brain aneurysm - a hemorrhagic stroke - is what I heard whispered in the ambulance that day.  What? I didn't even know what that was, much less how it happened to me at age 37. However, after weeks in the ICU and more than a full year of recovery, I learned more than I ever wanted to know about how and why this happened to me. 

Many people have aneurysms, which are balloon-like bulges or weaknesses in the vessels of the brain.  Over time, high blood pressure will put extra pressure on those vessels, eventually pushing blood into the aneurysm until the pocket grows and finally bursts. 

That's what happened to me, but unlike so many others, I made it to the hospital, and great doctors and nurses saved my life. Odds for a full recovery from a hemorrhagic stroke are extremely low, and while I beat the odds, my recovery would take time and patience. For weeks, I slept 16 hours a day napping, and even months later, would find myself needing multiple naps to make it through the day. While I was back at work eight weeks or so after the event, I was tired and overwhelmed all the time. I fought against the idea that I - always happy and easy-going - was now suffering from depression, which my doctor warned me would occur. I was medicated for depression for more than a year.

Today, I lead a normal and healthy life, and have returned to working out without restrictions. But with every headache I have, I am reminded that high blood pressure is a "silent killer" and I was one of the lucky ones. Now, unlike before, I take my blood pressure medicine, and will for the rest of my life.

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