My name is Lisa Deck. Most people I encounter don’t know that I am a three time stroke survivor. My first stroke occurred when I was just 21 years old, one week before my college graduation. Most of my friends were going to American University’s graduating class Booze Cruise while I was checking myself into Georgetown University Hospital. I had all the typical signs and symptoms of stroke- my entire left side was numb, I had a severe sudden headache, confusion, trouble speaking out of the side of my lips…yet I didn’t know I was having a stroke. I thought strokes only happened to old men.
My strokes were caused from a rare brain disease called Central Nervous System Vasculitis. I had two subsequent strokes in the following four years. My treatment for the strokes and the disease included Coumadin (a blood thinner), Cytoxan chemotherapy and the steroid, Prednisone. My disease and strokes were tough, but managing and surviving the treatment was even worse. Side effects included terrible fatigue, major weight gain, depression, early menopause, Osteopenia, hair loss…a real rough road to walk for a few years. Speaking of walking, I was often too weak to walk and had to go through occupational therapy to gain strength and motion back in my hand.
It’s only in retrospect that I recognize how difficult those few years were. I was stubborn though- and a fighter- continuing to work, exercise and socialize during my treatments. In my early 20’s, I wasn’t going to give in to this disease. There were times that my mortality was questioned, yet I never truly believed it. I think my close family and friends worried about losing me…which had to be hard for them. I can never adequately thank my family and friends that supported me during these four years. They know who they are! It was such a challenging time for me and those around me.
Today, I am a fortunate woman who is married to a supportive, loving husband and mom to two awesome children. I live close to my parents and brother, and have amazing friends and community around me. I am home with the children, not just because I want to be but because I have also been ordered by my doctors not to work. Losing my career possibilities was challenging at the age 25 but I try to make a difference in my volunteerism. One of these ways is staying involved with the American Heart Association. I volunteered in the AHA’s National Advocacy office in Washington, DC for four years and have remained involved in my local communities of RI and MA. Sharing my story connects me with other survivors and reminds folks to take care of themselves. I promote recognizing warning signs of heart disease and stroke and encourage others to eat well, exercise and maintain a reasonable level of stress.
My life has not gone as planned, but I wouldn’t change a thing. My illness somewhat defines me- not as a victim-but in my strength of persevering through the hard times. My illness taught me grace during adversity, the importance of a support network, patience, faith and giving in to God’s plan. I am not without my battle scars in that I still take numerous medications a day and see doctors on a regular basis. I also fatigue easily. Yet my strokes make me who I am today, and for that, I am thankful.