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STROKE – some things you may not know and were afraid to ask!

My name is Ron Drouin and I am a stroke survivor. There are two types of strokes, namely: Ischemic (which account for 87% of all strokes) and Hemorrhagic. There are many contributing factors: genetics, STRESS and Health habits. My factors were 40-plus years of smoking two packs of cigarettes a day, along with lots of job-related STRESS.  

My stroke was Ischemic and it occurred during the night of my 62nd birthday in 2002. “Happy Birthday Ron”. After an unknown time at home, I spent another 4 to 6 hours in the ER before undergoing an MRI that determined I did in fact have a serious stroke.

After two weeks in intensive care, working with my bedside therapist, I was able to move two fingers in my left hand. I cried a good deal with that experience. I have always been a typical ―”macho man” and you are not supposed to do that, (cry that is), but since the stroke, I now find myself crying at sad parts of movies and sad stories, etc. My experience is that there are many stroke-related side effects.

I spent three months in a rehab hospital and one of the therapists jokingly said: “You won’t be able to go home until you can tie your shoelaces. I said: “You’ve got to be kidding, here let me show you.” Guess what! I couldn’t tie my shoelaces and had to learn how to do that as well.

I spent about a year in a wheel chair and many sessions working with physical therapists.  There is kind of a rule of thumb that therapy can help you recover some of your abilities for the first six months after the stroke.

There is another stroke- related category called TIA’s (Transient Ischemic Attack). These should be taken seriously as well. I experienced one of these recently and it was discovered that my heart would actually stop beating for 3, 4 or even 5 seconds on occasion. A neurologist at the hospital told me that the heart pauses would cause the blood to thicken for a short period and produce stroke symptoms. So doctors installed a pacemaker and my heart is beating fine now.

I would be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge someone who has been “my rock” and demonstrated the quintessence of “in sickness and in health”; it is namely my wife Sharon. We just celebrated our Golden Wedding Anniversary - 50 years - this past July. We are looking forward to better times and “happily ever after” In 2015 and the years to come.  

Dr. Bob Blackburn, North Carolina

Dr. Blackburn started his career as a volunteer with the American Heart Association in 1973.  In a nutshell, why did he get involved? He was working with students and saw the impact tobacco was taking on their lives.  The tremendous need for our youth to have better health started him on a path that he has followed for more than forty years.

Dr. Blackburn took his passion and turned it into reality by creating a heart health training center at Gardner Webb University, where he was teaching.  At the same time he became more involved with the AHA helping on various committees and wherever he could make a difference.  He served as Chairman of the Board of Directors for the North Carolina Affiliate of the American Heart Association in 1991, and on the NC Board from 1990-1994.

He has served on the national steering committee for Jump Rope for Heart and been a long time member of the NC AHA Advocacy Coordinating Committee.  From 1973 to now, he has stayed true to one theme: improving health for students through prevention.

When asked what was the one moment that rose above the rest, he responded it came in the late seventies when he worked with the AHA to create a curriculum for physical education teachers’ called "Putting your Heart in the Curriculum."  He said it was a great experience that included a visit to AHA’s National Center in Dallas.

With more than forty years as a volunteer, Dr. Blackburn has witnessed a number of remarkable policy advances including NC’s smoke-free law. 

Dr. Blackburn is a native of North Carolina.  He is retired now and reports that his favorite things to do are spending time with his grandchildren, walking, and being with others.  Retirement hasn’t meant slowing down as a volunteer.  Dr. Blackburn says the work must continue because major challenges still exist and his commitment to prevention and the AHA mission remains strong.

He ended the conversation with some wisdom he’s gained along the way:

· Don’t burn bridges and don’t get mad at your legislators, two years from now you may need them.

· See the big picture and keep moving forward.

· You can make a difference – stand up and advocate!   

On behalf of You’re the Cure and the American Heart Association, thank you Dr. Blackburn for your advocacy! 

 

AmandaJean Beaulieu Minneapolis, MN

They say we only have one heart. Some of us are lucky enough to know someone who got a second heart. My family has been supporting the American Heart Association since 1994 when my cousin Emma became the first infant in MN to receive a heart transplant. Sadly she passed at the age of three. Her short life strengthened our desire to support the AHA. As a little girl I participated in Jump rope for heart and took CPR classes with my Girl Scout troop.

In February 2002 my world was turned upside down, my Father went into congestive heart failure. His heart was just fluttering. We almost lost him. I can’t imagine life without my Daddy and I am thankful to his care team.  If there is no research lives are lost, research saves lives. Research gives men the chance to hold their granddaughters. He is a survivor and because of him I advocate for a better day. A day where research is no longer needed because we have a cure.

In on brief moment I became the very survivor I was advocating for. I had a stroke when I was 26 years old, 5 days before my 27th birthday. If it wasn’t for my care team I would have had a funeral instead of a birthday party. Because of them I am a live and I want to give everyone the chance to blow out one more candle. Heart disease and stroke are killing more woman than any other disease. Many don’t even know they are sick until it’s too late. In 2009 I got the best birthday present and that was life.

Life will never be the same. I had nowhere to turn for information after I had my stroke. All the websites were for the elderly and not a young 26 year old professional. I needed information; I needed to put a “why” before the word stroke and to figure out how to live the healthiest life possible. The AHA’s website was a wealth of knowledge and tips for heart healthy living. The website became my guide and when I was strong enough I wanted to give back to the organization that supported me. I wanted to share my story and help those in my community be heart healthy.

I participated in my first MN Heart on the Hill day in 2011 and shared my story with state legislators and representatives. Each person I met that day was surprise to find out that I was a survivor, not only was I a survivor, I was a stroke survivor. Most people think of the elderly when they hear the words “stroke survivor” I am creating a new image and changing the face of stroke. Sharing my story allows me to raise awareness for the need to implement the Stroke Systems of Care and educate my community on the warning signs of stroke. It allows me to advocate for legislation that will create heart healthy communities and save lives.

Mostly I advocate for a little girl who never got the chance to grow up. Emma graced this earth for three beautiful years and because of her short life, lives are being saved. Someone so great deserves to have her legacy shared and shouted from the roof tops. I owe my surviving heart to that little girl and will continue to fight for the tomorrows she never got to see.