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Sandra Roberson, Tennessee

It was the most selfish and stupid thing I’ve ever done. At age 30, I was diagnosed with high blood pressure. I wasn’t surprised since it runs rampant in my family, but I was irritated to have to take a pill every day. 

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Around my 35th birthday, I started working out with a trainer 3-4 days a week. I changed my eating habits and felt the best I had felt in my life. I decided I didn’t need the blood pressure pill anymore and stopped taking the medication. Unbeknownst to me, an aneurysm – a weakening or ballooning-out of an artery wall – started growing in my brain. My blood pressure crept back up. I had no symptoms of either.

On August 21, 2009, I immediately knew something was wrong while at the gym finishing my second sit-up. I felt like I had been hit with a baseball bat. I was dizzy, but I kept telling myself if I could just get home and take a nap, I’d be fine.

Luckily, a nearby paramedic and my friends persuaded me to seek medical help. I ended up on the floor of the emergency room, and that is the last thing I remember for three weeks.

My brain aneurysm had burst. My high blood pressure had put too much pressure on my weakened blood vessel and I suffered a hemorrhagic stroke. My family was told there was only a small chance I would recover. They heard that 40% of people like me never make it to the hospital. 40% do, but then die. 10% live but need constant care. Only 10% make a full recovery. 

I’m told how strong I am to have survived. No, I am not the strong one. My mom, who sat in a waiting room for three weeks, and my dad, who drove an hour and a half every day for three weeks, so they could sit with me for only ten minutes at a time, are strong. Me? I had it easy.

Stroke recovery is difficult. I had to move in with my parents. Everything I picked up, I dropped. Dad says it is a miracle my Blackberry survived. I couldn’t hold a cup for more than a few minutes. I didn’t know what day it was unless I checked the makeshift bedside calendar my mom had made for me.

Six weeks later, I began working a few hours a day. It took almost a year to make it through an entire workday without a nap. I dealt with depression, a common after effect. A stent had to be inserted into my brain after two years, causing seizures. It was a long, long road back.

And I could probably have avoided it all if I had stayed on my blood pressure medicine in the first place. Now each morning, the first thing I do is take that pill. No longer is it annoying. It’s a lifesaver.

What I put my loved ones through was selfish and stupid. If I can influence one person to keep their blood pressure under control, then my story will continue to be one of success.

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