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Carmen Thompson Kentucky

 Frankfort, Kentucky resident, Carmen Thompson, is 66 years young. So when she suffered a stroke December of last year, she didn’t believe it was happening to her. “I woke up and was numb on my left side,” Carmen, who teaches 6th grade at Franklin County Schools, said. “I didn’t think my face was drooping so I went to school like normal.” But Carmen’s students immediately noticed something was wrong. “The kids kept looking at me funny,” she said.

Carmen’s superintendent finally came into her room and sent her home, telling her she believed she was having a stroke. “I should have gone right to the hospital,” Carmen said.  But instead she went home and asked her husband drive her to the emergency room. Still in denial, though she admits she knew all the stroke symptoms and was having several, Carmen said she didn’t want to face the fact that she may be having a stroke.

With an extensive family history of stroke, Carmen also struggles with high blood pressure, high cholesterol and is a type 2 diabetic. After spending five days in the stroke unit at the hospital, Carmen knew her stroke had been major. “The nurses called me a medical train wreck,” Carmen said. “I was sent for rehab,” she said. “I initially thought I’d stay there for just a few days, but I ended up in rehab for a month.”

During her rehab, Carmen received both occupational and physical therapy, both of which she desperately needed, especially for her extremely weak left side. She worked hard during that first month, just to recover her ability to walk and move properly. “I still needed help getting around,” she said. “Anything that needed zipping or buttoning or getting out of the shower I struggled with.”

After her first two weeks were complete, Carmen set goals, one of the most important being that she wanted to be back in her classroom teaching by January of 2016. “They teach you to set goals but remind you to know that you may have to change them,” she said.

Indeed Carmen eventually admitted that she would not be able to return to teaching for the duration of the school year. “I hope to be back in time for school to begin again in August,” she said. “I had another minor stroke the end of February that set me back quite a bit,” Carmen said. “I’m still in a wheelchair but I’m doing a lot better with my memory and processing things.”

Her advice for those who think they may be suffering from a stroke? “If you have symptoms, don’t stay in denial,” Carmen said. “Go immediately and get checked out. If I had gone to the hospital a little bit quicker, I know I wouldn’t have such a long recovery period.”

 

RenéMarie suffered a major stroke on April 8, 1989 while coaching a softball game and is afflicted with aphasia as a result. However, RenéMarie does not let this slow her down. She views her stroke as a call to action and uses her experience to raise awareness and inspire others by sharing her story and bringing hope and love.

RenéMarie is an artist, published author, singer, motivational speaker and host of a bi-weekly television program called "Stroke of Luck,” which is broadcast live on Madhouse TV. She founded RenéMarie Language of Love Foundation, Inc., a non-profit foundation that raises awareness of Stroke and Aphasia.

Each year, she hosts a Telethon to support the American Stroke Association and other non-profits that fund research and support stroke and aphasia patients. The 2016 Telethon will benefit The American Stroke Association, The Head Injury Association, and ReneMarie Language of Love Foundation, Inc.

Above all, RenéMarie is dedicated "You're the Cure" advocate who is passionate about promoting stroke awareness.

Meaghan O’Brien is 25 years old young working professional with a full-time job, she is a daughter, sister, granddaughter, niece, cousin and friend, She is a world traveler,  a thrill-seeker and A STROKE SURVIVOR.

She  grew up in a small town on the South Shore with her parents and two younger brothers. Meaghan was always active and driven growing up, playing sports and staying at the top of her class. In 2012, she graduated from Bentley University and got her first “big girl” job that fall, full of hope and dreams for what the future would hold for here. She had the best friends and the best family, She felt on top of the world and then the unthinkable happened.

Just over three years ago on a Monday night in January, Meaghan  walked into the gym feeling completely normal. She sat down on a stationary bike in a small room and tried to mentally prepare myself for the hour-long cycling class. She had no idea what She would face and ultimately survive in the minutes to come.

The lights in the room were dimmed down, the music was turned on very loud, and the class began right on schedule. A few minutes into the workout, she sat back to take a sip of water. She put the water bottle back down and went to return to position, but there was a problem – she couldn’t move her left arm. Almost immediately she started to feel pins and needles throughout her whole body and thought that she was about to faint.  It was obvious that something wasn’t right and she knew she had to get out of that room and get help immediately. She managed to collect her belongings and start walking towards the front desk to get help from one of the employees, a close friend of hers. She started to get very dizzy and the hallway to the front desk seemed to be growing longer and longer; she never made it to the front desk and she quickly realized that she wasn’t going to faint, she was having a stroke.

She could feel the left side of her body slipping out of her control in what was a matter of seconds but felt like a slow-motion nightmare. All she could think about was a poster she had seen probably in doctor’s offices or at work for the warning signs of a stroke. That poster reads “FAST”: F for face drooping, A for arm weakness, S for speech difficulty, T for time to call 911.  Even though she knew the signs of stroke, she never knew they could apply to someone her age. With a sense of disbelief she kept repeating the FAST acronym in her head, and the more she repeated it the more she realized that even the impossible was possible.

When the ambulance arrived she repeatedly said to the EMTs “I’m only 22 this isn’t supposed to happen to me.” They asked her what symptoms she was experiencing and she confidently said, “I’m having a stroke.” At first the EMTs and later the doctor at the emergency room thought it might be a migraine, because she didn’t fit the profile of someone at risk of stroke as a 22 year old, healthy and active female. She knew my body and she knew that she wasn’t having a migraine. She is so thankful that she was able to advocate for herself in order to convince the team she needed the proper medicine to stop the effects of the stroke and save her  life. Thankfully the medicine returned the blood flow and oxygen to her brain to keep her alive but too much damage was already done and the left side of her body was paralyzed.

She was transported by med-flight to Boston where she spent a week in the intensive care unit and her family was told she would likely be in a wheelchair for the rest of her life and never do anything normally again. She then spent a month in a rehabilitation hospital where she learned how to walk again, adapted to doing everyday tasks with one hand, and created her new normal life. The hospital stay validated her initial thought of “I’m only 22 this isn’t supposed to happen to me”, as she was the youngest stroke patient on the floor by at least 30 years. She worked tirelessly at an outpatient clinic for 9 months, her recovery will be a lifelong process and she is dedicated to giving it as much effort as she can because she is stronger than stroke. 

 

A Story from the Heart
by Anne Lindsey, mother and CHD Advocate

The heart. It is our life force. The rhythmic pulse with which our bodies are oxygenated and cleansed. Our hearts are responsible for pumping about five quarts of blood each minute which is equal to about 2, 000 gallons of blood each day. In order to accomplish such a feat, our hearts will contract nearly 101,000 times per day. Even at rest, the muscles of the heart work twice as hard as the leg muscles of a person when sprinting. Without a strong heart, our life and normal body functions are in jeopardy.

Congenital Heart Defect Awareness week is February 7th through the 14th. I’ve considered many ways that I, the mother of a child with a congenital heart defect, could raise awareness. I wear my red heart pin throughout the month of February. It’s a subtle gesture, but one that is important to me. The pin sits close to my heart each day. The stitches that are etched across its center remind me of how quickly life can change, and how important and precious the gift of health is.

When it comes to CHD, there are many statistics to quote. I can tell you that each year in the United States nearly 40,000 infants are born with a CHD. That’s 40,000 families whose lives are forever changed. I can tell you that CHDs are the most common type of birth defect. Of the 40,000 babies born with a CHD, 1 in 4 of them will have a critical CHD that will require surgery or other procedural interventions within their first year of life. I can tell you that 75% of babies born with a critical CHD are expected to live to see their first birthday, and 69% of those babies will live to 18 years of age. I can tell you that as the mother of one of those babies, statistics like these take your breath away. But, I can also tell you that there is hope.

Medical innovation and improved treatment options have increased the life span and quality of life for CHD patients. In fact, today there are about 1 million adults in the United States living with a CHD. My own son, born with a critical CHD, is now 11 years old. Yes, there is hope. We find hope in the form of life saving procedures and technologies that continually improve the quality of life for our children. We find hope in surgeons and doctors and nurses and therapists and technicians who do not lose sight of the impact and difference they are making in our lives every day. We find hope in mothers and fathers and sisters and brothers who share our pain and understand our burden.  We find hope in the communities and friendships that encourage and support us in some of our darkest moments.

I can tell you all these things and more, but perhaps the most effective way I can raise awareness is to allow my son the opportunity to speak. My son, Cade, has allowed me to summarize some of his story with you in order to bring understanding and awareness of Congenital Heart Defects.

Although we have always been open and honest with Cade about his heart condition, he says that he didn’t realize the significance of his heart defect until he was about 8 or 9 years old. Around this time Cade was preparing for his third open heart surgery. His last major hospital stay was several years ago at age 3, and much of that time he doesn’t remember. With the realization that his heart was different, came many questions.

Cade always considered himself to be just another kid, but now he realized that these differences in his heart sometimes meant facing big challenges. CHDs are not simple. Complications often arise from the interventions and surgical procedures that are designed to bring relief and repair. Cade, after his third open heart surgery, suffered a stroke which left him paralyzed on his right side. His recovery has been nothing short of remarkable, but the proof is still there. He has a limp and continued weakness in his right leg. He’s also developed other complications which have brought us to our most recent hurdle – preparing for a heart transplant.

Throughout our conversation, Cade talked about how he came to accept that his heart was different. He says his family and friends have helped him realize that it’s not actually that bad having HLHS. He talks about how nicely he is treated by everyone, and this makes him feel a lot better about himself. He knows his limitations. He’ll tire easily if he runs too much and missing his medication would make him feel sick. He notices many differences between himself and other typical children his age. But rather than focusing on these differences Cade is determined to look towards the future. He says, "Coming up, I’m going to have a heart transplant, and I’m going to be really happy about that." He hopes that a new heart will allow him to do some of things his peers are doing now. Perhaps the most important message from our conversation came near the end when I asked Cade what people should know about CHD. He responded, "Well, just because you are different because you have this CHD doesn’t meant that you’re not a normal person." That’s the beautiful truth: Although his heart is shaped differently, it still loves just the same.

*Statistical information was taken from the following websites:

http://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/heartdefects/data.html

http://www.arheart.com/cardiovascular-health/amazing-heart-facts/

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