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Karen D.


Never give up

Young adult stroke survivor who inspires others by leading by example

At age 37, I envisioned my whole life ahead of me as I was planning my wedding to Michael, the man of my dreams.  I was successful at my job as a sales representative at a golf resort.  I was physically active, for fun I played co-ed softball, golf, and tennis.  My life quickly changed in an instant.  One quiet morning, I would leave my old life as I knew it behind and begin my life over struggling to survive as a stroke survivor.

Four months prior to my wedding, I had a hemorrhagic stroke causing paralysis on my left side. I had no known stroke risk factors.  No family history of stroke, blood pressure was normal, healthy cholesterol, didn’t do drugs, not on birth control pills, and was not overweight.

I took a break and I sat on the couch, I started to feel immediate fatigue.  My head was just not right.  It started to hurt more.  My thought was that this feeling would pass soon enough.  Warning sign #2.

I got up and started to walk again.  However, this time I stopped and just stood there.  I looked down at my feet in disbelief.  This out of body sensation took over.  Literally I felt like I was watching all of this transpire from the outside looking in.  I described to Michael that I was looking down at my left foot but I could not feel it.  The sensation quickly traveled up the left side of my body. I could not feel it. It was like it went to sleep without the pins and needles feeling.  Something was terribly wrong.  “Help me!” I exclaimed.  Warning sign #3.

Michael started putting all the pieces of the puzzle together.  He sat me back down, looked at me and asked me to smile.  He could see the left side of my facial muscles was not equal to my right side.  Then he asked me to speak.  He knew something was wrong.  Warning sign #4.

He said to me, “Karen, everything you’re telling me says you’re having a stroke!”  This all took less than 5 minutes.

Michael SAVED MY LIFE that day by recognizing that I was having a stroke.  There was no doubt in his mind.  He wasted no time getting me to the emergency room.  A CT Scan revealed I was bleeding in my brain.  I was having a hemorrhagic stroke.  Strokes do not discriminate by age or race.  They can happen to anyone.

The stroke took many things from me including my lower left quadrant vision.  It left me without feeling on my entire left side including in my left hand, I had to learn to walk again and I still have a small limp.  With hard work, determination, and complete love and support from my husband Michael, I was able to walk down the aisle four months later on our wedding day.

I later asked Michael how he knew I was having a stroke.  He replied that he read it somewhere but he doesn’t recall where.  Only that somewhere he remembered that lifesaving bit of information that he stored in his memory.  I say that because everything we do to raise awareness stroke adds up.  Even if it’s one person we touch, that one person could save a life someday.  And it could be YOUR life.  Or YOU could save someone you love.

Social media has been a great tool throughout my recovery efforts.  During my journey on the road to recovery, I founded a support group for young adult stroke survivors called https://www.facebook.com/reclaimingourselves.  Please join us.  Nearly a thousand of young adult stroke survivors from around the world encourage each other online with our goals and successes.  We are also available on Twitter @Stroke_Survior, and Pinterest. 

To this day, I do public speaking throughout my community educating others about the warning signs of stroke including controllable risk factors in order to save lives.  The focus is not just about Stroke month in May, it's about every month and every life.

Being a voice for the millions of stroke survivors and their families is very important to me.  That’s why I was proud to join the Stroke Advocacy Network.  We take action on healthcare items that are important on the local and national levels that affects everyone in the stroke community.  Our lives and future generations depend on us.  It’s rewarding to be an advocate and the National Stroke Association makes it easy.

Do I still work on my recovery?  Every day!!  I stay very active with my gym membership.  My goal is to work out 4-5 times a week and do physical events such as 5K’s, 10K’s or even half marathons. This year was the second time I completed The Big Climb in Seattle up Columbia Tower (69 flights and 1,311 steps).  I believe there is no finish line.  I’m always looking for ‘what’s next’ and challenge others to join me.  It's not about my time, it's about my finish.

How do you recognize a stroke?  Remember F.A.S.T. 

F. Face

A. Arms

S. Speech

T. Time call 9-1-1 immediately

Please, make it your mission to educate yourself on the warning signs of stroke so you can be there for the ones you love. And make it your mission to educate the ones you love so they can be there for you. 

Karen Dionne, Stroke Survivor


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Display of the Faces of Stroke stories does not imply National Stroke Association's endorsement of any product, treatment, service or entity. National Stroke Association strongly recommends that people ask a healthcare professional about diagnosis and treatment questions before using any product, treatment or service. The views expressed through the stories reflect those of the authors and do not reflect the opinion of National Stroke Association.

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