I was 39 and had just done my personal best in the Danskin Triathlon two weeks earlier. I was at work and suddenly the world started spinning and I collapsed on the floor. For a week, my symptoms of dizziness, loss of balance, trouble moving my left arm and leg, blurred vision, and difficulty speaking were dismissed by medical professionals as symptoms of an inner ear infection. Finally, one alert doctor noticed that my eyes weren’t tracking his finger as he waved it in front of my face. Yes, I had a stroke, which it turned out was caused by a hole in my heart that had gone undiagnosed for all of those years. My body had been compensating for all of the un-oxygenated blood in my system, and my heart was enlarged one and a half times its normal size. So I was going to need to fix that hole and go through some serious physical therapy, a very depressing situation for a seemingly healthy and athletic person just a couple of weeks earlier. It was during this very tough time that a friend suggested we do the American Heart Association Heart Walk. I wasn’t walking well, wasn’t sure I could do it, and was worried I would have another stroke. My friend could see that I needed to believe in myself, and told me she’d help me through it and that there would be plenty of doctors around if something happened. So I went. It took me twice the time to finish the Heart Walk than it did to finish that Danskin Triathlon. When I finished, someone from the AHA put a red dress pin on me and gave me a big hug. I don’t know how they knew who I was or what I was going through (I suspect my friend had something to do with that.) But I knew I was going to be OK. It was the start of my recovery.
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