Tamsen Butler's Why
While putting away groceries with her children on July 22, 2015, Tamsen Butler, a 41-yearold mother of two, wife, Air Force veteran and fitness guru, felt an odd sensation, “like something had shifted in my head,” she said. “When I bent down to put away the doggie treats, I felt dizzy.” As she sank to the floor, she had the thought that she was having a stroke.
But how could she be? Health was not only stressed but lived in the Butler home, from eating good foods to jogging and strength conditioning. Tamsen taught several fitness classes a week.
None of that mattered as she lay on the kitchen floor, trying to find the words that her mind knew but could not recall.
Her daughter Monet, 12, quickly took charge, telling 10-year-old brother Abram to get a phone and call their dad. “For once I didn’t mind my sister telling me what to do,” he said
Husband Scott thought maybe Tamsen was having one of her occasional migraines. He rushed home and realized this was more serious. He called 911. Within minutes, Tamsen was being rushed to Midlands Hospital in a suburb of Omaha, Nebraska.
Tamsen had indeed had a stroke, dramatic consequences: Her left side was affected so she didn’t have full use of that arm or leg. In addition, she had left hemispatial neglect, which meant she could see but not perceive things on her left side. She also had difficulty finding words and sensitivity to visual and auditory stimulation.
Doctors discovered the cause of the stroke: she had a clotting disorder and a hole in her heart, called a patent foramen ovale (PFO), a not uncommon congenital heart defect.
“I had had military physicals, other physicals, and no one had ever noticed it. And I had no symptoms and yet I was a time bomb,” Tamsen said.
Because of the fast response, doctors told Tamsen and her family that her chances were good for a full recovery. It would take time, however. They wanted to send her to an inpatient rehab facility so she could regain her speech and re-learn to walk.
Tamsen pleaded to go home. “I physically ached to be close to my kids,” she said. “I think that was a byproduct of thinking I might die. I longed to hug them and cuddle with them. I think I was also in shock about the whole thing and figured I could ‘tough it out,’ not realizing the full extent of my condition.”
Doctors prescribed outpatient rehab — OT, PT and speech, and within weeks she was surpassing all the goals that the therapist set for her.
Just when she was getting back into shape, Tamsen had surgery to repair the PFO.
“I was not pleased with the timing, but I said, ‘OK, let’s do this,’” Tamsen said.
She was in the hospital overnight and went on a picnic the next day. Soon, she was jogging, as a replacement for strength training, which she couldn’t do for six weeks. Today she is back teaching six fitness classes a week.
The experience has taught her several things.
“First, be in as good a shape as possible, because you never know when something’s going to happen to you,” she said.
Second, heart disease truly can strike anyone.
She now is a walking — or running — advertisement for that point.
Recently, she was jogging with a friend who had complained of chest pains. “But she said she didn’t think she needed to go to the doctor because she’s young and healthy,” Tamsen said.
“And I kinda put up my hands and said, ‘Helloooo!’”
Most of all, however, Tamsen said she learned, albeit in a very difficult way, that stroke survivors can thrive.
“The one message that I hope people can take away from my experience is that stroke survivors can recover. There is hope,” she said.
Her why? “I advocate now for healthy living because a healthy body will bounce back quicker from whatever malady occurs. I don’t think most people realize how important it is to be healthy NOW, before the storm hits.”
Everyone has a reason to live a longer and healthier life.