Stroke Survivor Advises Focusing on Abilities

by Charles L. Ehrenfeld

She was a prisoner in her own body, unable to move and to speak, though she was aware of her surroundings.

Kate Adamson had been the picture of health, a 33-year-old mother of two daughters ages 3 and 18 months preparing to become a certified personal trainer. She also enjoyed playing golf and running.

But on June 29, 1995, without warning, the dark-haired, dark-eyed beauty suffered a double brain stem ponds stroke that would alter her life-a life for which doctors told her she had only a 1-percent chance of continuing.

“I had worked out six days a week,” said Adamson, who spoke for the Seventh Annual Women and Heart Health Conference on Thursday at Covenant Health System’s Knipling Education/Conference Center. “I was very active and healthy. I had no risk factors at all for stroke, no family history.

“It was scary, very frightening. I had no speech, no way of communicating. I was trapped within my own body.”

Each year, about 600,000 Americans suffer a stroke, according to the American heart Association. Strokes kill nearly 185,000 people a year, with someone dying of stroke every 3.3 minutes.

. But Adamson’s inspirational story is one of survival and triumph, as she is one of 4.5 million stroke survivors scattered across the United States. She recently chronicled her struggle in her new book, “Kate’s Journey: Triumph Over Adversity,” which was published by NOSMADA Press. and released in October.

Adamson, a New Zealand native who lives in Los Angeles, Calif., spent four years writing her book, typing with one hand since she remains paralyzed on the left side of her body.

“I’ve had to learn to adapt and overcome,” Adamson, 40, said. “I have to sit down when I get dressed, and I still wear a brace on my leg. I had to learn to work differently with a body that worked differently.

“What I’ve learned from this whole experience is so powerful, yet so simple: Focus on what it is that you can do. I had to set goals for myself and achieve those goals. But I feel I’m able to live a good life, because I learned to focus on what I could do.”

In the days following her stroke, all she could do was blink her eyes to communicate, trapped in her body by a condition called locked-in-syndrome.

“I couldn’t communicate with the outside world, but I knew what was being said to me,” said Adamson, who is the national spokeswoman for the American Heart Association. “The only way to communicate was by blinking my eyes. My brain would tell me to move something, and nothing would move.”

Then came the excruciating rehabilitation process, which kept her hospitalized for three months, including 50 days in the intensive care unit. She was fed by a tube surgically placed in her stomach and breathed through a tube surgically placed in her throat.

She also had to wear a diaper because she was unable to control her bodily functions.

“The therapy was the hardest thing I ever had to do in my life,” Adamson said. “But I’ve learned to thank God for every breath that we take. My life was literally defined moment by moment. I never prayed so much in my life. People have to have some faith.”

“To come from a place of only being able to blink your eyes to have a life again today is a miracle. I look at every day as a gift.”