Survivor Stories: Debra Davis

Stroke ‘Can Happen to Anyone’

By Janice Youngwith

Debra Davis, American Heart Association cultural health initiatives director, knows a thing or two about stroke.

For the past five years she’s shared the message of stroke awareness and risk factors hundreds of times through the Power To End Stroke program, coordinating events and presentations throughout the Chicago metropolitan areas.

The unthinkable happened to Davis this past May after completing a stroke awareness month presentation at the United Baptist Church in Chicago.

“It was a Sunday afternoon, and I had just returned home from the presentation when I fell and blacked out,” the 48-year-old Northwest Side resident and health educator says.

“I lived by myself and was fortunate my niece stopped by. She found me and called for help.”

Doctors later determined Davis had suffered a stroke and performed surgery to relieve pressure due to bleeding on the right side of her brain. She remained hospitalized until late summer, eventually being transferred to the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago and the Renaissance Parkview, Hillside, for therapy and rehabilitation.

“It can happen to anyone.”

“If it can happen to me, stroke can happen to anyone,” states Davis, who currently is living with her mom while working with therapists to regain lost mobility and skills.

Like many professionals, the health educator says stroke is something she never really thought would happen to her.

“Of course I knew the risks and had been diligent about treatment for my blood pressure,” Davis says. “But I thought I had it under close control. I always loved to walk, ate healthy foods and considered myself an active person.”

Davis says cardiovascular disease runs in her family – both her mom and dad battled high blood pressure.

“As a public health educator, I’m the first to point out that it’s those in the 40 to 60 year old age group who now are targeted for stroke risk,” she says. “I am in that group, but on the day I had the stroke, I had no clue what was about to happen.”

Determination & Recovery

Because the stroke was on the right side of her brain, Davis lost all movement on the left side of her body.

Recovery, she reports is going well, having relearned how to turn her head, swallow and even to speak.

She still battles left-sided weakness and because she regained only 30 percent use of her left leg, relies on a wheelchair to get from place to place. Her left arm remains paralyzed. Therapists work to help her regain additional skills, and she reports improvement in many daily living tasks.

“I’m actually very fortunate” states Davis, who misses her American Heart Association work, church involvement and interaction with a large and extended family, including 26 nieces and nephews. “Colleagues have stepped in to help cover assignments and have rallied behind me to lend support.”

Co-workers walked in Davis’ honor at last fall’s American Heart Association Start! Heart Walk, notes Curvine Summers, Davis’ administrative assistant and friend.

About Stroke

According to the American Stroke Association, a division of the American Heart Association, stroke is the fourth-leading cause of death, behind heart disease and cancer, and a leading cause of long-term disability. It accounts for one of every sixteen deaths and claims a life every three to four minutes.

Best described as a form of cardiovascular disease affecting arteries of the central nervous system, stroke frequently is referred to as a brain attack. The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke ranks stroke as the leading serious neurological disorder in the United States. They describe stroke as a disruption of blood supply to or within the brain.

When blood is cut off, the brain fails to receive oxygen and nutrients necessary for survival, resulting in permanent injury. As brain cells are injured or die from a lack of oxygen, body functions controlled by those injured cells are affected and cause impairment.

For more information on stroke or to complete a confidential risk assessment detailing personal stroke risk, visit www.strokesssociation.org.

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