How old were you when you were diagnosed with heart disease/stroke?
I had my first stroke at age 21 followed by two strokes in the next three years. It was one week before college graduation when I had my first stroke. I was shocked. At the time of my second stroke, I was diagnosed with a brain disease and underwent extremely debilitating treatment including blood thinners, chemotherapy and steroids. The side effects were terrible but I was eventually declared in remission. Fourteen years later, at the age of 39, I suffered a fourth stroke. I was then correctly diagnosed with a rare brain disease called Moyamoya Disease. There is no cure for Moyamoya, but there is treatment. I underwent bilateral brain bypass surgeries to save my life. I had two surgeries within a week- at Stanford Hospital (across the country from my family!). Fortunately, today I am recovered and well.
How has heart disease or stroke impacted your life?
Stroke has totally impacted my life. I have been a patient for half my life. I am disabled and unable to work. I couldn’t biologically have children because of my treatment and side effects. There are so many negatives….but more importantly, there are so many positives. I have been a volunteer with the American Heart and Stroke Association for eighteen years. I have been able to share my story of hope with thousands of people as a national Go Red for Women Spokesperson and a keynote speaker. I have started a non-profit organization to help others (Sisters@Heart) I am much more blessed, aware and present than I would have been without my strokes.
Will you need future surgeries?
I shouldn’t need more surgeries. The goal of the brain bypass is to increase blood flow to the brain which should eliminate more strokes and further problems. I went to the premier neurosurgeon in the country and his results/outcomes are encouraging. I pray this is the case.
What would you say has been your lowest point or biggest fear about your condition?
My scariest/lowest point was pre-surgeries. I was terrified to leave my children to have these risky surgeries. I was depressed, anxious and scared.
How do you keep yourself motivated during the difficult times?
I knew that I had more to do with my life for my family and others. I focused on being close with my family and close friends and taking care of myself. I am blessed to be an optimist so although I panicked about the outcome at times, I kept my faith and trust in God and a positive outcomes.
Why is sharing your heart story with other women important to you?
To allow others to not feel alone. To help others see hope and that recovery is possible. To help educate others so they don’t have to go through tough times like me.
What advice do you have for other women living with heart disease?
Focus on the positive. Stay strong overall but allow yourself feelings of sadness, anger and doubt- its all part f it. You can take care of yourself and should.
Many people are not aware that heart disease is the number 1 killer of women in the United States, why do you think that is?
I think heart disease isn’t talked about as much as it should be. I’m thrilled to be a part of the group of survivors sharing their story to educate others and raise awareness of heart disease and stroke.
What do you think you (or we) can do to raise awareness about women and heart disease?
What we’re doing. Share our stories. Speak to others. Learn from others. Motivate and provide hope to all women.
What has surviving stroke taught you?
That I am stronger than I ever knew and that life often has plans for you that you never knew.
What are you thankful for?
My health, my family and friends.
Thank you Lisa for sharing your story with The Heart Life community!