A Story From the Heart

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We interviewed Lorraine C. Ladish, whose mother suffered a stroke when she was only 28 years old. As a Latina and as someone with stroke in her family history, Lorraine is conscious of risk factors that she can control. Just as importantly, she’s made it a priority to educate her daughters about the virtues of incorporating healthy habits into their lives.

You were just a little girl when your mother suffered a stroke. What do you remember changing about her after her stroke?

Before her stroke, she was a young, healthy woman. After her stroke, she forgot her Spanish, and had to relearn basic abilities such as speaking and walking. Her right side was affected and she became left-handed out of necessity. She also lost peripheral vision, and walked with a limp and seemed to be unable to measure or control the way she expressed her emotions and thoughts. She is now 70 years old and lives on her own in Pittsburgh, Pa. Considering the extent of the brain damage she suffered, she is doing well. Back then there was not the awareness or the treatments available today.

Many people associate stroke with old age, but your mother was only 28 when she had her stroke. Looking back, what kind of risk factors was your mother facing at the time?

My mother had very strong headaches as a kid through adulthood. They were so strong she would cry. After her stroke, some doctors said it was because of an aneurysm she was most likely born with. She has high blood pressure, so that could be one of the causes, or high stress levels.

Did anyone else suffer a stroke in your family?

My mother’s father.

Since it’s part of your family history, what precautions have you taken to minimize risk factors for stroke?

I’ve always tried to take care of my health by exercising and eating right. And yet, someone my sister knows recently had a stroke during a hike. You just never know… I’ve had blinding headaches and blurred vision and have gone to the ER — afraid it could be a stroke. Fortunately, it never has been.

You’re a very proud mother of two daughters. What advice and knowledge do you impart on them about living healthy?

They see me exercise and eat right for the most part. Just yesterday, my eldest who will soon be 13, asked me to drop her off early at school so she could run on the track.

A woman’s risk for heart disease and stroke increases with menopause. How have you managed to carry your healthy habits into this next stage of life?

Oh, thank you very much for reminding me. 😀 Just kidding.

Well, just as I had my routine colonoscopy after I turned 50 last August, during my next physical I will ask to be tested for menopause and bone density. I will step up weight training. For me, it’s easy to stay active. But for those who aren’t active, I say, start now!

By the time this article is published, you will have had a wedding. How might prioritizing health play a part in your new life as a wife?

At our age — I’m 50, he’s 49 — we already know that we’ll be spending our old age together. We see friends and family suffer from diseases such as cancer or heart problems, so we’ve made it a point to make health a family affair. I’m more of a gym goer; he isn’t. But for the past two years, he’s committed to coming to the gym three times a week and watching what he eats. As a photojournalist, he used to be physically active. Now that he’s more sedentary, he forces himself to be active. The older you get, the more you need to exercise, really.

Latina women, especially moms, are famous for putting everyone else’s needs ahead of their own. What do you do to take care of yourself and to be there for your children and future husband? What advice would you give other busy women?

The trick to staying active, even during pregnancy and after childbirth, has been to adapt my type of exercise to my circumstances. I had a threatened miscarriage during my first pregnancy; so I stopped weightlifting and instead walked and swam after two weeks of bed rest. When baby number one was born, I put her in the stroller and went for long walks. When baby number two came around, I’d bike with the eldest and have the little one in a seat behind me. Now we run together. How cool is that? For busy women: weave exercise into your lifestyle. I have a loose program where I commit to doing something active three times a week. It could be walking or running with the dog, going to the gym, dancing, doing squats in my room for at least half an hour. At the end of each week, I usually surpass that goal. It may not seem like a lot, but add it all up throughout the years and it’s actually a lot!

Lorraine C. Ladish is a mom, blogger and founding editor of VivaFifty. She has authored 17 books. You can follow her on Twitter at @lorrainecladish.

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