No Joke, A Stroke

On October 26, 2014, my life changed in a way I truly never thought it would. I knew it COULD, but like many other carefree 44-year-olds, I thought I was immortal. I knew that I had health risks that made me susceptible to stroke; I also knew that I didn’t take care of myself the way I should.

But that is all said in hindsight while I type with one hand because my left hand has not fully regained movement or fine motor skills. I had a right-brain ischemic stroke, which affected the left side of my body. I never lost the ability to speak, and was walking within days in ICU. My arm mobility was good as far as being able to move it up and down, but my hand didn’t come back until December.

The cause of my stroke was largely due to just not taking care of myself. I have to take warfarin because I have a titanium heart valve and atrial fibrillation. Because of this medication, I need to have regular blood tests to monitor my blood’s clotting capability. I stopped monitoring mine because it was nearly impossible to work full time, be a single mom and get blood tests regularly.

The night of my stroke was the Sunday before Halloween, my very favorite holiday. I felt totally normal, maybe a little spacey. Maybe I was drooling a little, but I was able to walk and sort of talk, but my 13-year-old, Max, was worried and called 911. Lucky me, he recognized the signs of stroke from a commercial.

Within minutes, five EMTs were in my house to take me to the ER, though I was covered in glitter because I had been working on my mermaid costume. I must have looked and seemed crazy because the EMTs asked me if I had anti-psychotic meds and asked my kids if I was always like this — um, nope only when having a stroke. At the ER, tests confirmed that I was having an ischemic stroke, and they gave me a drug to break up the clot. I spent a week in the hospital and two weeks in inpatient rehab.

My life is definitely different now, but different doesn’t automatically equal terrible. I am left with the deficits in my left hand and some cognitive issues. When I told a close male friend that I am extremely forgetful, cannot multi-task and don’t have attention to detail, he told me he’s been like that his whole life!

Seven months after my stroke I went back to work part time as a receptionist for a property management company and was fired about three months later. I was punctual and pleasant, but that’s all I had to offer. Cognitively I wasn’t ready and had a very difficult time mastering a simple computer system. Next, I tried to work with children, but quickly learned I couldn’t keep up with them. Several months after getting fired from the receptionist job, and being denied Social Security Disability for not being disabled enough, I realized I needed to find a full-time job. I found one at a not-for-profit as a volunteer coordinator, recruiting, training and scheduling volunteers. I was allowed to create and implement policies and procedures that worked the best for me, which meant communicating almost solely through email, so I could have a paper trail and double check things.

I slowly made my way back to comedy, which I had tried eight months before my stroke. At first, I just stood on stage and read my jokes because my memory was so poor. Then I progressed to key prompts, and finally was able to deliver a 5- to 20-minute set without notes. Post-stroke, I opened for nationally touring comedians, won contests and performed in out-of-state festivals. I recently decided that stand-up comedy is exhausting and no longer fun. I don’t think that’s stroke related, but more related to the fact it’s something you have to do all the time to improve. I’ll always be proud of myself for accomplishing what I did, but I am no longer interested in performing.

Now at three years post-stroke I am still finding my way and learning my sometimes-painful limitations. I’m returning to school to become a Certified Nursing Assistant, which will give me more stability and room for career growth. At age 47, I’m looking at many years before retirement, might as well make more money and have clear career goals in the time I have left.

I was recently reminded of my limitations in a very painful way. Roller derby is something I always wanted to try, so when the local team had a recruitment day, I decided to try out. If anything, I figured it would be a fun workout. I felt like I was doing great then my affected left side gave out and I landed on the left side of my buttocks. After the fourth time, I realized I needed to just stay down and give it up. I knew I would have a bruised butt, though I had no idea I would develop a hematoma the size of a small watermelon and chip my elbow.

Max, the child who called 911, asked me not to do the roller derby thing because he had a feeling I would get hurt. Unfortunately, I can’t turn my stubborn streak off and on, I’m stubborn in all arenas of my life, and so are both of my children. Max is 16 now, Theo is 13. I try to be an example of someone who gives everything her all, I know now that sometimes HAS to mean knowing my limitations, otherwise, my life becomes a pain in the butt, metaphorically and literally.

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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

Stroke-related news you can use about new scientific findings, public policy, programs and resources.

Readers Room

Articles, poems and art submitted by stroke survivors and their loved ones.

Life Is Why

Everyone has a reason to live a longer, healthier life. These stroke survivors, caregivers and others share their 'whys'. We'd love for you to share yours, too!

Everyday Survival

Practical tips and advice for day-to day living after stroke.

Life At The Curb

A unique perspective on survival by comedian and stroke survivor John Kawie.

Simple Cooking

Cooking at home can be a daunting task, but a rewarding one for your diet and lifestyle (and your wallet). Making small changes in your diet is important to your heart health. Here are simple, healthy and affordable recipes and cooking tips.

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!