• Kelly O'Donnell

The Day I Had a Stroke and What I Learned

The Day My Life Changed

I was 33 years old, with a one year old baby girl, when I had a stroke. It was horrifying. I was working that day, talking to restaurant owners about employing new immigrants and refugees in St. Louis. Everything faded to black. The man I was talking to must have thought I was crazy. I excused myself, from the conversation, walked outside, and sat down on the sidewalk. I was confused, and tried to rationalize what was happening. I thought maybe I was going to faint, but I never did. My vision just continued to fade in and out. Finally, I decided to go back to my office, which was right down the street (thank goodness). When I got back to the office, I remember going to the bathroom, looking in the mirror, and seeing that one eye was dilated and the other was normal. That is when I knew that something was seriously wrong with me. But, I didn’t call an ambulance. It was totally irrational, but I just wanted to get to my daughter. I got in my car and started driving. My vision was still going in and out and I became very confused. I called my Mom (of course). I was at a stoplight right in front of a 7-11. She told me to pull in the parking lot. I couldn’t tell her where I was. I was scared and confused. It took her 15 minutes to convince me to go in and hand the phone to someone. Finally, I did it – although I do not remember that part. From there an ambulance came to get me and I woke up in the hospital several hours later. I had a splitting headache and neck pain, confusion, short term memory loss, and fear. My Mother was there. I kept asking her the same question… What happened? I couldn’t remember from one minute to the next.


I spent the next three days in the hospital. They did a lot of tests. Even a cardiac cath to check for blockages and heart disease. They could not find any reason for my stroke and kept asking me if I had suffered any neck trauma. Basically, there was nothing wrong with me. But, due to my family history they put me on a Statin drug to reduce my cholesterol (which was not high to begin with). They also told me to take a baby aspirin daily. I went home and spent the next month or so recovering. I had no long term effects from the stroke.


Here is what having a stroke taught me…


1. The body is always trying to protect you (even when it feels like your worst enemy). The reason I had a stroke was not because I had high cholesterol (as I said before, it was moderate). It was because I had inflammation! My immune system was trying to protect me by clotting an injury in an artery. There are many causes for chronic inflammation in the body including toxin exposure, heavy metal toxicity, long-term infection, smoking, obesity, inflammatory foods, allergies, and many others. Cholesterol itself is necessary and used for many processes in the body including hormonal balance and Vitamin D production. If I had done my job to avoid inflammation in my body, I probably would not have had a stroke.


2. I am responsible for my own health. The doctors had no idea why I had a stroke. They prescribed medicine that was not going to fix the problem (most likely it would have caused more problems if I had continued to take them). No one in the hospital mentioned diet or exercise as a way to prevent future stroke. They did test after test, got no answers, and wasted lots of money. When I left the hospital, I did not have much confidence in the health care system. Doctors should be telling patients like me, “You are are responsible for your own body! Take care of yourself! Eat right, manage your stress, and exercise or you are going to DIE!” No one ever said that it me. I got the message anyway. But many people think that a pill is the answer to their health problems.


3. Prevention is not just about prevention, it is about quality of life. When I eat healthy, get plenty of sleep, manage my stress, and exercise I feel great. My mood improves, my relationships improve, and I am more productive. When one of those things start to falter, I notice it. I am lucky to have my stroke as a point of reference to get me back on track. I see so many people living miserably without that point of reference. I don’t just want to live, I want to enjoy living!


4. There are no guarantees in life. Nothing is more eye opening than a brush with death. I was young. I easily could have died that day. The doctors kept telling me how incredibly lucky I was. I feel lucky now. I try to keep the impermanence of life in the forefront of my mind to make me appreciate each moment. (Admittedly, some moments are easier to appreciate than others.)


I would love to hear about your soul expanding life experiences. Share below…