Women and Stroke

by Kate Adamson

“…suddenly I was totally helpless.”

I often feel like my life is nothing less than a miracle. At the age of 33, I was a wife and a mother of two young toddlers, Stephanie, 3 years old and Rachel, 18 months old. In the seeming prime of my health I suffered the unthinkable – a massive brainstem stroke. My stroke left me paralyzed from my forehead down – suddenly I was totally helpless. I couldn’t even coordinate my blinks, breath on my own, eat or perform any normal bodily functions. Within a short time I had my throat cut for a trachea tube so I could breathe and my stomach slit to place a feeding tube in me so I could receive nourishment. Without life support and the best in medical technology, I could not have lasted five minutes on my own. My doctor felt my situation was hopeless. Thank goodness I don’t always listen to people, especially if they do not have something positive to say. I knew deep inside that hope is always possible. I spent six weeks in the ICU and three months in acute rehab at Daniel Freeman Hospital in Inglewood, California.

I learned to talk, swallow, eat, write and dress again. After an agonizing effort I was able to take short steps. I eventually learned to drive a car again, which meant so much to me, living in Los Angeles. I have come a long way, but I still cannot use my left arm and I have to wear a brace on my left leg in order to walk.

To help others like myself, those more and less fortunate, I founded the “Back to Track” stroke support group and became a member of the Board of Directors of the Stroke Association of California. I also serve on the Advisory Board of Women of Los Angeles. I am a national spokesperson for the American Heart Association. In that capacity I have testified before Congress in an effort to lobby for increased funding for heart and stroke research. I also serve on the local AHA Board in my area.

I was in Washington last September to help kick off a campaign launched by the American Heart Association. “Each one, Reach one” is a campaign encouraging women to reach out to other women with information about what they can do to reduce their risk of heart disease and stroke. I spoke on a platform accented by a floral tribute made up of 500,000 red and white carnations in the shape of the AHA’s logo. The flowers were a tribute to the 500,000 women who die of stroke and cardiovascular diseases each year, making cardiovascular disease the number one killer of women.

Of those women afflicted, 28% are under the age of 65. A survey released by the American Heart Association found that nearly twice as many women die form cardiovascular disease than from all forms of cancer (including breast cancer) yet only 8% of U.S. women consider heart disease and stroke as their greatest health threats.

What you don’t know can kill you. Women need to be assertive and ask questions at the doctor’s office about the risk of heart disease and stroke. Women need to know what they can do to lower their risk of cardiovascular disease. It is not as simple a task as it may seem since so many doctors virtually ignore women when it comes to treatment and prevention of heart disease. There are many women who are helping in the battle, such as Martha Hill, volunteer president of the American Heart Association, Senator Barbara Boxer and Congresswoman Maxine Walters, both of whom shared the speaker’s platform with me in Washington. Congresswoman Jane Harman has also been very supportive, as have many other women in Congress.

With May being Stroke Awareness Month, I have my story coming out on video with the Heart Association. It will be used in every affiliate around the country to promote stroke awareness.

Women can help themselves by calling 1-888-MY HEART to receive educational information such as the brochure titled “Take Charge”. Women need to know that stroke is a true medical emergency. If you even suspect a stroke call 911.

Kate Adamson, an inspirational speaker, is the National Spokesperson for the American Stroke Association. You can read more about her in the June 1998 issue of Redbook magazine. She is currently working on a book about her experience. You can reach her at kate@katesjourney.com.

Know the warning signs:

  • Numbness or paralysis of the face or limbs
  • Loss of speech or slurred speech
  • Difficulty in understanding words
  • Loss of vision or blurred vision
  • Loss of balance
  • Unexplained severe headaches
  • Difficulty swallowing