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My name is Ryley Williams.  I am a high school student and stroke survivor.  This is my story. 

On July 8, 2013 my life was forever changed when I collapsed during warm up exercises at sophomore football practice. I was rushed to the ER, and they quickly told my parents that I needed a higher level of care, so I was taken in a helicopter to Arkansas Children's Hospital in Little Rock, AR. In less than 4 hours of being admitted my parents were told that I had suffered multiple strokes in the left side of my brain. I could not speak or move the right side of my body. But they still did not know what caused the strokes. I was 15 years old, and in the best shape of my life, how could this happen to me?! 

Less than 48 hours later I was taken into emergency surgery to remove a portion of my skull to relieve the terrible swelling from the strokes. I am told, this saved my life. Immediately following the crainectomy, a transesophageal echocardiogram was performed and it was then that the vegetation like strands that had built up from an unknown (and never identified) bacterial infection was found, and I was officially diagnosed with negative culture endocarditis.

I was immediately started on several different strong antibiotics to fight the infection, so the next 6 weeks I had to carry around an IV for these medications.  I am told that I completely broke all expectations and predictions from the stroke damage and was moved out of PICU directly into the rehabilitation unit at Arkansas Children's Hospital. 

I was still getting my food thru a feeding tube in my nose, and couldn’t sit up or move on my own. There was speculation that I might only get part of my right side working again. 

But gradually and in leaps, I started fighting to get my life back, beginning with talking, swallowing, moving my arm and leg, and eventually sitting up and standing. After almost 3 weeks in rehab, I took my first steps with the help of a walking machine, and several physical therapists. The next move was a transfer to a residential rehabilitation hospital closer to home, and I immediately started physical, occupational and speech therapy on a daily routine. After another 3 weeks, I was able to come home.

Altogether the total amount of time spent in the hospitals was 7.5 weeks. It was during this time that my neurosurgeon broke it to me that I would never play football again, or any other contact sport, this was devastating to me. In November of 2013, I went back to ACH for my final surgery that replaced the missing piece of skull with a prosthetic piece.

Once again I fought against the odds, and went home after only 2 days, and never lost any of my progress. In January, I went back to school with a shortened schedule, and daily PT/OT/Speech therapies, as well as trying out my new role as a student athletic trainer.

It has been a year since my stroke, and it’s been a very tough journey, not just physically, but mentally hard to accept my new limitations and lifestyle. I want to tell other stroke survivors to not give up, even a tiny progress is progress, and it’s further than you were a week ago.

A lot of people think I have it easy, but it’s really hard to see all my friends moving on in their lives, and I am just fighting to run again, or ride a bike, or play video games. It will all happen again…..just not as quickly as I wish, and that is okay. I have also had my 16th birthday since the strokes, but I will not be able to drive for another year or so, because I have had seizures that are “normal”, but should be controlled by medications I take daily. No matter what, I am alive and I am thankful that I am still on the earth to help others that have been through what I have been through.

American Heart Association Advocate and Board Member Mary Cushman takes her role as an advocate seriously, serving on both the Vermont and National AHA Advocacy Committees.

As a physician and researcher, she knows both are important to preventing lives lost to heart disease and stroke.  But she also knows that advocacy is the third important tool in her war chest to prevent these terrible diseases and save lives through policy change.

Mary has traveled to Washington, DC to urge Vermont's Congressional Delegation to support research funding. She takes action often through the American Heart Association's own www.yourethecure.org advocacy network and has worked on such issues as CPR in Schools, a tobacco tax and sugar sweetened beverage tax and recreational use of school property.  She's been so active, that she is now ranked as a  Hero in our network, having earned over 700 points for her actions in responding to advocacy alerts. Way to go Mary!

The more you take action, the more points you'll earn and the higher your advocacy status will climb! Thanks to Mary and all our advocates for making advocacy a priority.

crafted by Janice Edwards-Jackson, Arizona

I am 34 years old and a stay-at-home mom of 3 children, ages 8, 6, and 3.  On September 21, 2013, I had just returned home after taking my 2 older children to piano lessons.  We were eating lunch when I stood up to warm up my food in the microwave.  The room started spinning.  I thought I was about to have a migraine, since I get them every so often, so I grabbed the counter and made my way back to my seat.  I became sleepy and the spinning would not stop. I told my husband that something was wrong and that I wanted to go to sleep so he helped walk me to the couch and gave me 2 aspirin.  I slept for 3 hours.

2 days later, I went to the doctor and was told it was vertigo/inner ear, but the next day something still didn’t feel right, so I went to the ER at a hospital near my house.  They did a CT scan and MRI and told me I had a brain tumor.  I was terrified.  I was transferred to Barrows Neurological Institute, to confirm the test results, but I was then told that I had a small thalamic stroke.  Learn to spot a stroke FAST by clicking here.

It turns out that my stroke was caused by a congenital heart defect known as PFO (atrial septic defect/hole in the heart). Until this incident, I never knew I had a congenital heart defect (CHD) and a bi-cusped aortic valve.  I went to both physical and cognitive therapy and I currently take 325 mg of aspirin daily. 

Additionally, I had all of my children checked and I found out that my youngest daughter has a PFO as well and that one of her coronary arteries is not completely on the correct side.  The doctor hopes that as her heart grows, that the PFO will close and that the coronary artery will completely move to the correct side.  We are hoping that this will happen by the time she is 5.  If not, she will have to have surgery.

Unfortunately, congenital heart defects are the number one birth defect in newborns.  There are an estimated 500 babies born in Arizona each year with congenital heart defects and of those 125 babies will have a critical congenital heart defect.  Critical congenital heart defects are heart defects that often require major corrective procedures in the first year of an infant’s life.  Thankfully, House Bill 2491 was signed into law by Governor Brewer and now all newborns in Arizona will be screened for CHDs via pulse oximetry screening prior to leaving the hospital.  HB 2491 will save many lives in the future by catching heart defects at the earliest point in life allowing for early detection and treatment.  Visit here for more information.