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Bill Forester recalls the moment he heard the doctors tell his family that he was gone. At 51-years-old, he was a college professor, realtor, director of labor and public speaker who led a healthy lifestyle. "I was a vegetarian, I ran and I never smoked," said Bill, which is why it was such a shock when he had a stroke that left him in a coma for three days.

Thankfully, Bill awoke, but was paralyzed and unable to speak. When he first regained some ability to speak, his vocabulary was limited to just four word, but he was determined to get his life back. At times, he would study a single sentence for hours just to learn it. "I wanted to fully recover, and I didn’t care what it took." After lengthy physical, occupational and speech therapy, Bill regained his speech and has even been able to run a half marathon. He has since found a new talent and passion--painting.

Bill offers some advice to others who are going through a similar situation. "Never, never give up!"

What brought you to be an advocate for the American Heart Association?

I had my stroke in 2003 while serving in the Illinois legislature. I'd already been working with the American Heart Association on health care issues so after I was able, I became a visible advocate for heart healthy issues.

What issues or policies are you most passionate about and why?

Now retired, I continue to address heart healthy matters as I serve on a study group established by the legislature to continue work begun for stroke survivors. Our work product is shared nationally with the neediest populations affected by stroke.

What is your favorite advocacy memory or experience so far and what made it great?

I work with a stroke advocacy group called SSEEO. We've initiated a new survivor- to- survivor program that has been received very positively by both providers and recipients.

What is your favorite way to be active?

I exercise at my local health facility three times a week but also keep physically busy with eight of our grandchildren living in the same house.

What is your favorite fruit or vegetable?

Banana fresh off the tree!

When I woke up at 6:30 AM on October 22, 2013 I knew something was terribly wrong. I tried to get out of bed and found it difficult to walk. I called for my husband, who had just returned from the gym, he found me slumped on the bed and with the slurred voice I said, "I think I'm having a stroke."  I convinced him to not call for an ambulance,   - I didn't want the fanfare- instead, I asked him to drive me to the hospital. Not a smart move!

My ride to the hospital was very difficult because my equilibrium was off and with every turn and bump in the road I began to feel more nauseous and it also seemed to take forever to get to the hospital.  Once in the hospital I was told I had a mild stroke due to the long-term effects of hypertension.  I knew I had high blood pressure - and I was even on medication for it. My doctor had even increased my dosage a few months earlier, but a small vessel in the base of my brain, called the Pons area, ruptured and a piece of plaque was released.

After three days in the hospital I was sent home with strict instructions: change my diet, take a daily reading of my blood pressure, get plenty of sleep and begin physical therapy. Now the hard work would really begin.

For the next several months my life took on a new normal for me. Friends brought food, family members took turns coming to help care for me and strenuous physical therapy sessions helped to awaken my muscles. I had to learn to do many things all over again. I struggled with walking, speaking, reading, and even writing legibly.  I had to also re-learn how to swallow liquids and learn to drive a car again.

Once I was able to return to my gym I used a personal trainer to help me continue working on my strength, balance and coordination.  Today, I feel healthier than I did before my stroke.  I am working each day to continue my improvement both physically and mentally.

I used to think strokes happened only to older people; however, I now know that's not true. They can happen to anyone at any age. I have learned so much from the American Heart/Stroke Association and will continue to pledge my support for them and I am willing to lend support to fellow stroke survivors.