After teaching two fitness classes and attending another, 36-year-old Jessica Diaz was taking a shower when she felt a strange sensation shoot down the left side of her body.
Jessica particularly noticed the odd feeling in her left hand.
“It was like it was there, but it wasn’t mine,” she recalled. The sensation also was present in the left side of her face.
Her husband, Charles, happened to be home, and she told him about it. Soon, everything seemed fine, and Jessica resumed her shower.
Then it happened again. This time, her left leg felt as if it were asleep, followed by an intense pressure headache. Jessica had experienced migraines before, but nothing like this.
After about five minutes of numbness in her foot, she called her doctor, who told her to head to the hospital. Once she was there, a brain scan revealed she had suffered a stroke.
“Never in a million years did it occur to me that I was having a stroke,” said Jessica, a fit mother of two young children. “I really had thought it was something as simple as being really dehydrated or a migraine.”
The next morning, Jessica woke up in the hospital feeling “perfectly fine – no symptoms,” she said.
She remained in the hospital for a few more days, undergoing tests, where doctors determined Jessica’s was a “warning stroke,” which only lasts a few minutes but, if left untreated, can lead to a high risk of a major stroke.
Tests also found that Jessica had patent foramen ovale, or PFO, a hole in the heart that didn’t close properly after birth and likely allowed a clot to move through the heart to her brain. Furthermore, she was diagnosed with the blood disorder Factor V, which means she is prone to clotting.
Jessica was placed on an aspirin regimen for Factor V and returned to her home in Charlestown, Massachusetts, with her husband Charles and children Chloe and Chase.
A few times after the episode, Jessica felt groggy and occasionally mixed up her words when speaking. Yet she was usually OK, and has continued working as an instructor of Barre exercise classes, a type of total body workout.
In April, she underwent surgery to repair the hole in her heart. After the surgery she finally felt she could move forward with her life.
At first, after her stroke, Jessica was embarrassed by what had happened. She mistakenly thought strokes only afflicted older people.
Her neurologist, Dr. Natalia Rost, put Jessica in touch with the American Heart Association and American Stroke Association.
By learning more about strokes, and meeting Heather Hourin, another young stroke survivor and American Heart Association volunteer in the Boston area, Jessica felt more comfortable. She became a volunteer, too, even sharing her experience to help educate others.
Jessica participated in an American Stroke Association day at the Massachusetts statehouse to discuss health policies. She also organized a fashion show at Saks Fifth Avenue to raise money for stroke awareness through clothing purchases. Her neurologist spoke at the successful event.
“There was some serious shopping going on,” Jessica said, happily.
Jessica also maintains a fitness, fashion and lifestyle blog called Ms. Fit For Society. On Oct. 1, her blog and high-end retailer called Intermix held an event featuring top fitness instructors from across Boston showcasing the store’s fall fashions. A portion of the sales went to the American Stroke Association and Tedy’s Team, an organization named for former New England Patriots star Tedy Bruschi, who suffered a stroke in 2005.
Jessica realizes that if she’d ignored her warning stroke and hadn’t gone to the hospital, she eventually could have faced a potentially debilitating massive stroke.
Jessica urges others to pay attention to their health by watching their weight, cholesterol and blood pressure.
“Being healthy really does save your life,” she said.
Jessica finds it difficult to believe she didn’t know the warning signs of stroke, the No. 4 cause of death and the leading cause of adult disability in the United States. The American Stroke Association wants all Americans to know that stroke is beatable, treatable and largely preventable. It’s also important to know how to recognize a stroke F.A.S.T. — if you detect face drooping, arm weakness or speech difficulty, it’s time to call 9-1-1. The sooner care is given, the better the chances for recovery; time lost is brain lost.
Though she doesn’t want others to live in fear, Jessica emphasizes that knowledge about one’s medical condition – even though it’s frightening – can lead to diagnosis and prevention.
“There definitely is a value in knowing,” she said. “It is treatable. I’m doing great today.”
Photos courtesy of Jessica Diaz
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