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.


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Stroke Rehabilitation

Making the Best Decisions at Discharge After Stroke

The type of rehabilitation and support systems a survivor receives at discharge can strongly influence health outcomes and recovery. In this, the first part of a two-part series on stroke rehab, we offer guidance for the decision-making process required when it’s time to leave the hospital.

What to Expect from Outpatient Rehab

After stroke, about two-thirds of survivors receive some type of rehabilitation. Outpatient therapy may consist of Several types of therapy. Whether a patient is referred to inpatient or outpatient therapy depends on the level of medical care required.

What to Expect in Stroke Rehab

Following a stroke, about two-thirds of survivors receive some type rehabilitation. In this second of our two-part series, we want to alleviate some of the mystery, fear and anxiety around the inpatient rehab part of the stroke recovery journey.
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AHA-ASA Resources

The Support Network

When faced with challenges recovering from heart disease or stroke, it’s important to have emotional support. That is why we created a network to connect patients and loved ones with others during their journey.

Caregiver Guide to Stroke

The Caregiver Guide to Stroke is meant to help caregivers better navigate the recovery process and the financial and social implications of a stroke.

Stroke Support Group Finder

To find a group near you, simply enter your ZIP code and a mile radius. If your initial search does not pull up any groups, try

Tips for Daily Living Library

This volunteer-powered library gathers tips and ideas from stroke survivors, caregivers and healthcare professionals all over the country who’ve created or discovered adaptive and often innovative ways to get things done!

Stroke Family Warmline

The Warmline connects stroke survivors and their families with an ASA team member who can provide support, helpful information or just a listening ear.

Let's Talk About Stroke Patient Information Sheets

Let's Talk About Stroke is a series of downloadable patient information sheets, created by the American Stroke Association, that presents information in a question-and-answer format that's brief, easy to follow and easy to read.

Request Free Stroke Information Packets

Fill out this online form to request free information about a variety of post-stroke topics.
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Stroke & Parts of the Brain

When Stroke Affects the Occipital Lobe

Our occipital lobe, the smallest of the four lobes of the cerebral cortex, controls how we visually interpret our world.

When Stroke Affects the Cerebellum

The cerebellum contains 80 percent of our neurons. Its job seems to be to make things better. We talked with neuroscientist Jeremy Schmahmann about how stroke affects the “little brain.”

When Stroke Affects the Parietal Lobe

The parietal lobe helps us make sense of sensory information, like where our bodies and body parts are in space, our sense of touch, and the part of our vision that deals with the location of objects.

When Stroke Affects the Frontal Lobe

Of the four lobes that make up the cerebral cortex, the frontal lobe is the largest. It plays a huge role in many of the functions that make us human — memory, language, movement, judgment, abstract thinking.

When Stroke Affects the Temporal Lobe

The temporal lobe has several functions, mainly involved with memory, perception and language.

When Stroke Affects the Brain Stem

The brain stem serves as a bridge in the nervous system. It sits at the top of the spinal column in the center of the brain. When a stroke happens there, it can cause a few different deficits and, in the most severe cases, can lead to locked-in syndrome.

When Stroke Affects the Thalamus

The thalamus can be thought of as a "relay station," receiving signals from the brain’s outer regions (cerebral cortex), interpreting them, then sending them to other areas of the brain to complete their job.
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Stroke Notes

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Simple Cooking

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Helping Others Understand

Stroke affects people differently and many of the effects of stroke can be complicated. Helping friends and family understand how a stroke is affecting a survivor can help everyone involved.

Support Showcase

Our new department highlighting the good work being done by stroke support groups from around the nation. If you are part of a successful support group we should consider featuring, let us know!