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Debra Wells, District of Columbia

Don’t ever let yourself wind up like Debra Wells. Doctors confirm her heart stopped for almost 20 seconds.  Today she’s alive to tell about it, and it was a rough road. 

Before her heart problems, Debra was a successful business woman, working as Vice President of Business Development for a publicly traded company.  She worked hard and played hard.

However, her world changed when she collapsed while on a trip with her husband in Maui. What began as a migraine headache became a stroke.  “In that moment I was completely—and instantly—DEPENDENT,” said Debra.  For two years, she went to physical, speech, and occupational therapy. She was told to “accept her limitations.”  She worked to improve her health and gradually returned to work.

Seven years later, her heart stopped on two more occasions, once it was for 19.5 seconds. As Debra describes it, “For me … it was a head on collision with reality.  No more denial.  In those precious 19 and half seconds that could have taken my life, I realized I could no longer treat my health like a business deal.” Debra has since had two pacemakers implanted. She still has high blood pressure, and does everything she can to control it by exercising regularly, eating healthy, and taking medication. 

Now, nearly 16 years after having a stroke, Debra is making a difference by sharing her story with others as a You’re the Cure advocate. She recently shared her story at the Maryland Million Hearts Symposium and on Washington DC’s CBS TV station WUSA9. (You can watch her WUSA9 interview HERE.)

Debra urges women to take care of themselves and know their risk factors and the important “numbers”—blood pressure, cholesterol, and BMI. She encourages them to accept and respect themselves as working women, mothers, wives, sisters, and daughters.

Debra says, “I am in a way grateful for the 19.5 seconds that almost took my life, because in turn, it taught me to treasure every second I’ve had since, every relationship, [and every] day in my life.”

Visit the American Heart Association’s website to learn more about simple and important changes you can make to improve your heart health.

Have a story of your own to tell?    Enter it HERE (it’s confidential). 

Shauna Brick Shakopee, MN

What couldn’t a girl say about her father?  He watched you grow from daddy’s little girl to an independent woman, teaching you valuable life lessons and sharing in all your special moments along the way.  In 1998, I almost lost my father to a life threatening stroke.  Embarrassingly, when he told me what he thought was happening I didn’t recognize or have the education to know the signs and told him to go back to bed.  Thankfully, my mom did know and hours later he was in the emergency room with Dr.’s monitoring his progressive stroke.  My father was able to walk me down the aisle last summer BECAUSE of their quick reaction, knowledge and my mom’s education.  Who can enjoy life’s moments because of yours?

Kirk Disrude Illinois

Kirk Disrude was a healthy, 38-year-old PE teacher and coach. On September 6, 2011, he reached for a shirt, only to feel “as if a rubber band had snapped in my head. I totally lost my balance and fell,” he said. “I sat there for minute and thought, ‘This has to go away.’ Seconds passed, and then I thought, ‘This isn’t going away.” Kirk’s wife, Beth, was awakened by him calling her name. She thought he might be battling vertigo, or an extreme migraine. Then he became violently ill. With help she carried Kirk to the car and arrived at the Advocate Condell in less than 10 minutes.
 
The problem was traced to the hole that had been in Kirk’s heart since birth. His PFO caused a stroke.  Kirk was in and out of consciousness for three days. While he lay in his bed his wife had one rule for visitors that echoed her husband’s athletic mindset: no crying allowed. “What we needed to convey to him was that he was OK and that he was going to be OK,” she said.
 
When he finally regained consciousness, he looked confused and asked his wife what was happening. He took a few seconds to collect himself and then muttered, “Is the baby OK?” Beth was 20 weeks pregnant. Kirk asked nurses to bring a monitor so he could hear his unborn son’s heartbeat. As the steady beat of Logan’s heart resonated in his room, Kirk and Beth fell asleep. They shared a hospital bed for the next four days.
 
 After one week in the hospital and 11 weeks of intensive therapy at the RIC Wheeling, Kirk learned to walk, talk, write, eat and learn how to live a post-stroke life. His motivation through his therapy is credited to his wife for saving his life and their then unborn son. On 11/11/11, a date selected by the Disrude’s for luck, Kirk underwent heart surgery to correct his heart preparing him for his ultimate recovery challenge one year from his stroke: running the Chicago Marathon. They trained wearing special T-shirts; his read “Stroke Survivor” on the back, hers read “Life Saver.” The 26.2-mile run was tough. But Kirk and Beth steeled their resolve by thinking of other stroke survivors, everyone who helped with Kirk’s recovery and, of course, Logan. They finished in 5 hours, 31 minutes, 35 seconds.

Nowadays, Kirk occasionally naps, sometimes gets headaches, and the continued daily challenges in his new life.  Most of all, he’s thankful to be alive, a sentiment that comes through in each email he sends. They close with, “To a healthier tomorrow.”
 
“It’s hard to have two boys, Logan (2) and Wyatt (6mos), sitting here and looking up at me with a lifetime ahead of them that I want to share, and know that I could have another stroke.”
 
Kirk has become a passionate volunteer for the American Heart Association. He’s worked at various association youth events, such as a “White Out” fundraiser at his school and a “Red Out” assembly at a nearby school. He participated two events with You’re The Cure and to meet with members of congress. Kirk has created “Project Live Long” for his high school students, requiring them to research one of the five main causes of death in the United States, then to come up with preventive lifestyle changes for themselves and their loved ones.

 “We are still learning how to cope with challenges we face as a result of the stroke,” he said. “Yet we take our time and cross each hurdle carefully to make the best choice in our new life.”

Lori Wright, Nevada

Lori Wright is an American Stroke Association (ASA) advocacy champion.  She had a stroke at age 44 and lost use of the left side of her body.  Because of this she is unable to drive and typically has to rely on public transportation to get around the major metropolitan area of Las Vegas.  This doesn’t stop her from doing everything that she does for the mission of the ASA.  She is the volunteer coordinator for the Sharegivers Program here in Las Vegas, traveling to hospitals all over the valley visiting with patients who just recently had strokes, providing them with encouragement and practical knowledge on life after stroke, available resources, and support groups that they can attend.  She also attends health fairs on a regular basis, representing our organization and providing important education and outreach to attendees. 

As a You’re the Cure advocate, Lori has traveled to Carson City to meet with legislators, and has testified in front of legislative committees, telling her story and helping to make the case for important policy changes that will help improve stroke patient treatment and care.  For one of these hearings, Lori had to spend six hours for her round trip on the bus to testify for just a few minutes.  Her testimony helped to provide valuable perspective to the legislators, and the bill was successful in passing the committee and later becoming law. 

This Thanksgiving, I’m thankful for dedicated volunteers like Lori and many of you in You’re the Cure who dedicate your time, voice and heart to helping people live healthier lives.  Sincerest thanks to Lori – and you for all that you do!

~Guest blogger: Christopher Roller, Sr. Government Relations Director, Nevada

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