By Laura Pugh
Never in my imagination would I have dreamed that I would go to bed one person and wake up another. I am a wife, daughter, sister, runner, world traveler and full-time career woman. A few years ago, I went to bed confident that I was living a healthy life. But I woke up as a stroke survivor. At age 38, I had a stroke in my sleep.
That morning, my plan was to head to the airport and fly to Colorado where I would meet up with my husband. When the alarm went off, I got out of bed and when I stood up, my right leg wouldn’t support my weight. It just gave out. I looked in the mirror and saw that the right side of my face was drooping. I knew that something serious had happened.
I googled the warning signs of stroke and it said to call 911. But I did the absolute worst thing you can do. I called my mother. It was another hour and a half before she arrived and the look on her face terrified me. We then rushed to the hospital where doctors ordered tests and a neurologist confirmed what I feared. He said, “Young lady, you’ve had a stroke.”
I was devastated. I had no use of my right arm. Someone else had to cut my food. I couldn’t put my hair in a ponytail, and I could barely walk on my own.
If you’re not familiar with stroke, think of it as a brain attack. Most strokes are caused by a blood clot that impedes the supply of blood to the brain, affecting speech, movement, and even emotions. For those of us lucky to survive a stroke, it’s a fight to regain independence.
There was another patient at the hospital that shared the room with me, and it was she who gave the first advice that changed my life. She told me not to make the mistake she made of feeling sorry for herself and staying in bed for weeks instead of doing her therapy. She also advised me to never give up and stay positive.
At 9 p.m. on Christmas Eve, I was discharged from the hospital and my amazing husband has been instrumental in my recovery ever since the day I had the stroke. Taking the advice of my physical therapist, he immediately went about treating food as medicine and changing the way we ate.
Doctors told me that I would be lucky to get to 65 percent of where I was, but I was determined. I am happy to say that I pretty much fully recovered. Some days are not great, but overall I am 100 percent.
Since my stroke, I have returned to my full-time career and even completed my first full marathon! I wanted to be a positive survivor statistic. Today, I’m paying it forward as a fitness coach, speaker and volunteer for the American Heart Association.
On March 13, I had the honor of sharing my story at the South Sound Go Red for Women Luncheon in Tacoma. It’s very moving to see 350 women and men supporting the fight to end heart disease and stroke through the American Heart Association. Stroke doesn’t know age, race, wealth or gender. I want others to learn from my experience. Stress-related high blood pressure may have triggered my stroke and I want everyone to understand that strokes can be prevented. For women, I want them to understand that taking care of themselves is putting our families first.
One more thing: time lost is brain lost. I urge you to know the stroke warning signs. An easy way to remember them is through the acronym F.A.S.T.
F – facial droop. Does one side of the face droop or is it numb?
A – arm weakness. Ask the person to raise both arms. Does one arm drift downward?
S – speech difficulty. Is speech slurred or is the person unable to speak?
T – time to call 911.
Calling 911 is important because medical treatment can begin upon arrival by EMS. Stroke used to be the fourth leading cause of death in the country; now it’s the fifth. Advances in treatment have helped many stroke survivors, but time is still of the essence. Knowing the warning signs and getting help quickly can make a huge impact on the outcomes for a stroke patient.
Laura Pugh is an ambassador for the American Heart Association’s Puget Sound Division and part of the 2019 class of Real Women for the national Go Red for Women campaign.