In the summer of 2009, at the age of 44, my life changed forever. An active, full-time mom and wife, I suddenly began to experience troubling symptoms.
A little bit about Dana
As I was getting out of the car one day, I dropped my keys and my left arm felt like it was flung out of its socket. It was a weird sensation, but I thought nothing of it and continued to walk into the store. Once inside, I started looking around and all of a sudden, I just collapsed. A salesperson came over and asked if I could understand what she was saying. I was feeling unclear and slurring my words. In addition to this, I couldn't get my body to move or stand up.
I was taken to a hospital where I was released after my symptoms subsided. Doctors diagnosed me with a menopausal migraine and sent me home. I had not yet experienced any paralysis, but I was still feeling unclear and had a headache. In the car ride home, the symptoms worsened, and by the time I got home, I was vomiting.
I was rushed back to the hospital, and when I arrived for the second time, I was totally paralyzed on my left side. It was obvious that I was having a full-blown stroke. At the hospital, scans showed I had suffered a stroke caused by a patent foramen ovale (PFO) - a hole in the atrial wall of my heart that affects 1-3 people.
Being physically fit my whole life, no one could have imagined that I would have a stroke.
My time in the acute rehabilitation unit
I spent a week in ICU and was then transferred to the acute rehabilitation unit where I spent three and a half weeks learning to walk and use my left hand and arm again. It was such a dark time.
As the mom of four teenagers between the ages of 13 and 18, I had always been "Super Mom,” multitasking and doing everything for my family. At that point, I didn't know what my future held for me anymore, especially since I was paralyzed. It was very scary.
The acute setting was just the starting point of my recovery. It was an opportunity to begin working hard on getting my deficit back. After I left the acute unit, I went home and received outpatient therapy immediately. In addition to this, I incorporated daily walks with my husband, beginning with half a block and progressing slowly. By the time I reached the three-month mark, I was able to walk without the brace, the walker and the cane. It was like peeling away each apparatus. This was such a great, freeing emotion because in my mind that equalled independence again. I began to feel more hopeful, positive, and optimistic.
What helped me during my recovery
Recovery was very slow, but I kept at it. I incorporated yoga into the regime to help me regain balance and mobility as well as develop arm, wrist, and hand strength. I was fearful at the beginning of experiencing my stroke-- similar to other survivors, I was afraid of suffering another one - so I eased this feeling with yoga and meditation.
It took about four and half months to physically recover, something I can attribute to my hard work and determination, but also to the motivation and support of family and loved ones. My family, friends, and my community were amazing. They helped me in so many ways such as bringing home cooked meals, grocery shopping, and taking me to physical therapists to reach my goals. Small goals helped me stay motivated. One of my goals was to walk in my wedge heels again.
Six months after my stroke, I decided to have a procedure to close the hole in my heart. It took a full year to feel like my old self, but this time, I was a better version of myself because of everything I had gone through. A new identity: With everything I went through, I was eager to share my story with others. I wanted to help others, young and old. I approached UCLA Neuro unit at that time and asked for any opportunities to share my story. It so happened they were creating a support group inside the unit for all different types of neurological injuries.
My favorite Quotes
"The meaning of life is to find your gift. The purpose of life is to give it away" - Pablo Picasso
"I don't need easy. I just need possible" - Bethany Hamilton
To me, that means you can HOPE instead of feeling HOPELESSNESS.