Sandra Chaloux

| 03/17/2017

Healthy Heart, Healthy You – Part 2

Healthy Heart, Healthy You – Part 2

This is a real story of how an accomplished, “healthy”, wife, mother of 2 boys became a three-time stroke survivor at the age of 39. Carolyn is the Vice President of Marketing for a local Sportsplex, a board member of the local YMCA, a noted patient advocacy board member of the local hospital, and recognized as one of the 40 under 40 to watch by the local newspaper.

The following is her compelling story about what happened, her symptoms, and thought-provoking self-care recommendations that were presented at the Loudoun Chamber Healthy Heart, Healthy You panel discussion that I recently attended.

Carolyn: It was about 5:30 in the morning, and my alarm went off because I had the YMCA board meeting. I tried to turn my alarm off and I couldn’t figure out how to do it. I was looking at my phone and looking at the number one and not realizing one was actually number one.

I tried to stand up and I couldn’t walk. I actually crawled to the bathroom, to the shower. You would’ve thought I probably should call 911 but I had a board meeting to go to. I had responsibilities and I was a new board member and I didn’t want to let my team down. I crawled into the shower, stood up, turned the water on, opened my mouth to kind of just put water to my mouth, and couldn’t swallow. I was basically drowning in the shower. Again, there’s my red flag, I should’ve called 911, still didn’t. Went about my routine, walked around the bathroom, got dressed, tried to put my make up on, tried to figure out how to dry my hair, I was really confused.

My whole left side was numb. Kind of felt like my left arm had a life of its own and I couldn’t control it. My left pupil was completely dilated. Went downstairs, got water, tried to drink, couldn’t. Just went about my normal day. I just thought I was tired, honestly. At 39, you’re not thinking I’m having a heart attack, or I’m having a stroke, I’m a healthy person. I eat well, my blood pressure’s like 85 over 60. It’s really low, I don’t have cholesterol issues, mostly vegetarian. I walk, I run. I didn’t fit the mold of someone you think is going to have a heart attack or stroke.

I got dressed, put my six-inch heels on like I normally do, put my sundress on and drove to my board meeting. Got to the building, couldn’t figure out how to use an elevator. I have no idea how to get into an elevator, what to do, I was completely confused. Went for my board meeting and my shoulder had dropped. When you think about stroke, you think you’re going to have face-droop. I didn’t have that. I just kind of felt like something’s going on and I’ll just deal with it later.

Thank goodness, I had my friend Stacey with me in the board meeting, because I went up to her and I said, “I think I had a stroke this morning and I think I’m having another one.” She did the test fast. Face-droop, I couldn’t raise my arm. I had slurred speech. I was confused, so she threw me in the car and drove me to the Loudoun Inova Hospital where I had a second stroke that morning.

I had two in one day. They did tests, MRIs– by the way, you don’t ever, ever want to get MRIs because it is horrible, so take care of your bodies. They found out that I had possibly a small piece of plaque in my carotid artery. I had been so stressed out for so long that they think my blood was going so fast through my system that it broke loose this piece of plaque. It struck me on the right side of my brain twice in one day. The lasting effects of it are that I have brain damage. I’m 39 years old and I have brain damage. I have memory loss.

If it is not on my calendar, it does not exist. I confuse numbers and times so if you schedule a meeting with me and I show up at 11 instead of 10, that’s why.

I will say there is one advantage to having memory loss is my 14 year old wasn’t doing well in school last semester and I hid his X box and I have no idea where I put it. If he can find it, he can have it back.

I have no feeling from the tips of my fingertips through my shoulder in my left side. But my peripheral vision is pretty much shot.

Stroke fatigue is a real thing. The days that you feel like you are so incredibly tired, multiply that by about a million. You can’t even physically get out of bed and you’re constantly worried about when this is going to happen again. And it did. After two months of staying home, I went back to work, working my 16 hour day, 6 days a week, putting in all my energy to every sports clubs and YMCA. I loved to do this, I loved to be networking, but you can’t always do everything. What I have learned is “no” is the sentence. No is a sentence. You can say, no. Not today.

You don’t need an excuse. You don’t need a reason. We try to be there for everybody and everybody else and we don’t take care of ourselves and that caused me to have a third stroke about three weeks ago.

This one was a TIA which also leads me to believe that this is a warning that possibly another major stroke is coming my way. It is terrifying. At 39 basically you have your life flash before your eyes. I want to make it to 40. 40 is in June. I want to see my son graduate. These are all milestones that I don’t want to miss. What I have learned is to say no. I also need to sleep. Sleep is one of the best things you could do for your body. I was getting maybe four hours of sleep a day, working 16 hour days, 6 days a week. Nothing is worth losing your life for, so make sure your body has time to recover from your day, eight hours, nine hours.

About five hour sleeping schedule doesn’t cut it. It’s not going to give you the energy you need to fuel yourself for the day. And exercise, eat well. I do all of that and I have a nice new handy heart monitor now. But you don’t want to be going through these things and going through tests and going through eight million doctors and spending your life wondering when it’s going to happen again, so it’s by far much easier to put these things in place now.

This is a very moving story. Dr. Suzanne Nixon, the moderator of the panel discussion and a mental health professional, pointed out that the behavior of not saying “no” is actually a relationship disorder that we call co-dependency. Many of us know of the relationship disorder or addiction. Co-dependency, which affects more women than men, is a relationship disorder in which women put the needs of others and their business before themselves and it’s characterized by this inability of saying “no” and instead saying yes I will, yes I will, yes I will. Actually, it’s a disorder -the mental health classification of a co-dependency disorder.

Suzanne said “I know myself as well that there are times where I have difficulty saying “no” to things because I tend to be an overachiever, and I think many of us can say that as well. We’re so passionate about our work. We love our work so much, we love the chamber and doing all these things that sometimes we can leave ourselves behind and as soon as we do that, we’re beginning to forfeit our health. Instead of being a do-er, we sometimes need to be a be-er and listen to our body, listen to ourself, and revisit our self-care habits.”

What we see here is that having a healthy heart isn’t just about eating healthy and exercising, it also has a great deal to do with our mindset and self-care habits that enable us to rest, repair, reframe, and reboot.

Next Up…Part 3, and our last blog post from the Healthy Heart, Healthy You panel discussion, will include information about how emotions affect heart health. We’d love to hear your stories and ah ha moments, so leave us a comment below.

Check out our other blog posts from the Healthy Heart, Healthy You Panel Discussion:

Healthy Heart, Healthy You – Part 1 (for women): The Statistics, Heart Conditions Explained, Nutrition & Dietary Recommendations, Successful Business Woman Wake Up Call Story & Lessons Learned

Healthy Heart, Healthy You – Part 2: Story from a 3-time stroke survivor at age 39

Healthy Heart, Healthy You – Part 3: How Emotions Affect Heart Health

Healthy Heart, Healthy You – Part 4: Do you know the Signs of Heart Trouble in Women? Self-Care Tips & Preventative Tests

Healthy Heart, Healthy You – Part 5: Miscellaneous Q & A


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