But You Look So Normal

By now I am used to the odd looks people give me when I say that I’ve had a stroke.

Survivor and author Kara Ellsworth Russo

I am a stroke survivor and I look normal!

I had my first stroke at age 27 when I was undergoing a cerebral angiogram and the doctor went through an artery. I was misdiagnosed for three days and eventually learned that I lost my entire left cerebellum. As a nurse, I knew what happens when a stroke occurs, but what I learned as a survivor changed my life.

For a few months prior to the angiogram, I had been having severe headaches and vision loss. My doctor suspected I had vasculitis and needed the angiogram to prove it. I remember joking with the doctor and the staff when they were discussing the 1 percent chance of a stroke happening as a “side effect” from the angiogram. Be careful what you laugh about.

After the stroke, I had extreme dizziness, even when not moving. I felt like a chicken on a rotisserie. I couldn’t make sense of my symptoms and thought that I was going crazy. I was actually relieved to hear that I had had a stroke. I just figured I would do some rehabilitation and everything would return to normal. Even though I was told that I would not walk or work again, I knew I would prove the doctors wrong and walk to work one day.

What I didn’t realize is that stroke is a life-altering event. It affects me every day. I may no longer have the walker or foot brace, but trust me, on the inside there isn’t a day that goes by that I am not affected by my stroke.

I have learned how to embrace and live with the new me. I try to maintain a positive attitude daily.

By now I am used to the odd looks people give me when I say that I’ve had a stroke. I am not even mad. Well, of course I am but there is nothing I can do about it now. I have learned how to embrace and live with the new me. I try to maintain a positive attitude daily, but sometimes it is so overwhelming. I do my best and that is all I can ask of myself.

A good result from my stroke was meeting my husband in speech therapy. He was 20 when he had meningitis and encephalitis and was left paralyzed with the same “grim” future I was given. We instantly bonded and fell in love. We recently celebrated our fifth wedding anniversary. We laugh and wonder if we would have met if it weren’t for our brain injuries.

We wrote a book, “But You Look So Normal…” about our brain injuries, how we have lived and conquered them every day, and how we fell in love. We have even included a section on how to deal with people with brain injuries. We’ve also created a website, butyoulooksonormal.com  and we have joined the board of the Head Trauma Support Project.

We marvel at how well we recovered but worry about the future. How will our brain injuries affect us? There is no way to know, but we have each other, remain positive and take one day at a time!

Kara Ellsworth Russo, Survivor
Sacramento, California

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Stroke Rehabilitation

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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.

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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.

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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

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Stroke Family Warmline

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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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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!