Stories from the Heart: Mother of 8 Who Collapsed in Church Warns Others

Many of us believe we know what a heart attack looks like. We have a picture in our mind of what a person who is likely to suffer from heart disease looks like, and if that is not us, we simply don’t worry about it. However, Cynthia Essex wants you to know that heart disease may not look like anything. Understanding your family history and your risk factors is extremely important because you don’t know what you don’t know, and in the case of heart disease, not knowing could prove to be deadly. Here Cynthia shares her story and a warning she wants everyone to receive.

Learn more about Cynthia’s experience.

Crystal Wall (Wife of Rapper Paul Wall) Shares Her Sister’s Stroke Story

Crystal found it important to share her family connection to stroke and her personal struggle with weight to help others lead a healthier life.

“Two sisters are talking on the phone, as they do at least once a day. They’re laughing about a new TV comedy when one drops the phone and falls to the ground. She tries to explain what’s happening, but her words are slurred.

Crystal Wall recognizes her older sister is having a stroke – again – and this time, Chassity Anderson is alone.”

Powerful People – Emma Jolley, Caregiver

Read Emma’s story of how caring for her mother after a stroke impacted her life.

Tell us a little about yourself.
My name is Emma Infanta Hughes-Jolley and I was born and raised in a little place outside of Cape Charles, Va. I was raised on a small farm with my grandparents, mother and brother. My mother and grandparents had a genuine relationship with God. We spent more time in church than the average family and we were very involved in our congregation.

What is your connection to stroke?
In 1994, my mom had a stroke. She’d been a psychiatric nurse for over 15 years and later worked in a nursing home as a geriatric nurse, and then with mentally and physically challenged children, teens and young adults. My mother suffered from high blood pressure for years and was on medication all throughout my teens and adulthood.

What do you remember about the day your mother had a stroke?
I was living in North Carolina with my brother, his wife and my mother and daughter. One day, I went out to get some items to fix dinner and when I returned home my mom was lying on the living room floor. I asked her why was she sleeping on the floor and when she turned her head toward me, I knew she’d had a stroke. Her mouth was twisted and as she was trying to get up she was spinning on the floor.

I called the ambulance and we rushed her to the hospital. The doctors told me that she suffered paralysis on her left side and would need constant care. They asked me what nursing home I was sending my mother to. I told them I couldn’t send my mom to a nursing home and that they needed to teach me how to take care of her. My mom did everything for me and I would do no less.

What happened after her stroke?
I went to that hospital every day for a week to learn everything I needed to know. When the time came to leave the hospital, they had lined up physical and occupational therapy four times a week. They had transportation that would come and pick her up and bring her back home when it was over.

It was hard. It seemed like my mother did not want to do the work, but I realize that was because of the damage that had been done to her brain. She had a potty chair in her bedroom, but she preferred the diapers. She would not really try to walk with the walker or with the cane; she just relied on me and her wheelchair.

It was hard to watch this vibrant, loving caring and strong woman be reduced to someone who wouldn’t do anything but feed herself. My mother was always a woman of faith who did not use profanity or say derogatory things, but after the stroke she began to do just that.

What other complications did your mom have from her stroke?
My mother suffered multiple complications. She stopped eating and had a feeding tube. When they did the surgery to place the feeding tube, my mom suffered several strokes. It took everything from her. She could not speak, she could not walk, she could not eat, she couldn’t even hold her body up to sit. It broke my heart. Again, they tried to get me to put her in a nursing home, but again I declined. I took my mom home with me.

She moaned and groaned all the time, but she had these moments of love and clarity that would shine in her eyes. Every two hours she had to be turned or shifted so that she wouldn’t get bed sores. There was no life for me outside my home and it was really hard, but I knew I had to give her whatever I could for as long as I could. At least twice they got hospice service because they gave her only six months to live, but that woman would not let go.

Was she able to recover from her stroke?
For a good while she was just a slab of meat lying there until one day out of the blue she started laughing at something on television. Soon she was able to say a couple of words and shake her fist. She recognized me and that meant the world to me. You could see in her eyes that this is exactly where she wanted to be: with her baby girl.

I really believe that my mother wanted me to know that I could do this, that I was not a failure and that I could do anything I set my mind to. Again she built me up, this wonderful woman who gave birth to me, nurtured me, taught me right from wrong and gave me a foundation of faith. No matter what mistakes I made in life, she was there to support and love me.

How did being a caregiver impact you and your family?
This illness impacted me entire family and most of them had a hard time even coming to see her. My brother couldn’t see her without a few drinks in his system. My children took it very hard and really had a hard time dealing with seeing their grandma. My brother’s children also had a hard time visiting, but his oldest daughter would come help me out every now and then.

My mom lived for three more years. This illness changed everything in my life, but I would do it all again for the opportunity to have that time with my mom. It helped me to learn what I was made of and it reinforced the strength and love I have for my family. I miss her every day, but I know there is no more pain for her and that gives me comfort

Extraordinary People Just Like You

View in Spanish

Read Mario’s story.

What is your name?
Mario Carpio

How old are you?
I am 47 years old.

Do you have children or grandchildren?
I have three boys.

Where are you from?
I am from Guatemala.

What is your work?
I work in La Brea Park, in the department dealing with apartments for new tenants (Carpenter, electricity, pipelines)

Have you always done physical activity?
I have played soccer my whole life since I was seven years old.

How long have you been doing exercise?
One year.

What type of exercise do you prefer?
Why did you decide to start to exercise again?
When I was 34 years old, I stopped playing soccer because I got a thyroid disease. I stopped exercising completely. I spent six months sick, and I did not even know I was sick during the first three months. My disease advanced so quickly that I was hospitalized three times for periods of four to five days. I became so thin, that I soon weighed 130 pounds, when at one point I weighed 170 pounds. Since I was so thin, after my thyroid disease was controlled, I started eating more than I should have. But no one told me thyroid disease works in two ways – you either lose weight or gain it. At first I was losing weight, but this changed and I started to gain weight. My metabolism started to slow down and the doctor told me that I needed to take pills for the rest of my life. Since I was so thin, I did not follow instructions and after a year I went to the doctor weighing 225 pounds. It was then that I started taking pills and started exercising. I was only able to lose 10 pounds with the help of the pills. As a result, my weight was maintained at 215 pounds, and for my height this was overweight. I stopped doing exercise completely, and I ate everything I liked to eat (tortillas, white bread, pastries, beans, rice, soda, etc.). This was going to be the end of me. Eventually, I was diagnosed with high sugar and high cholesterol. This was the beginning of diabetes. The doctor prescribed so many pills that my bathroom looked like a pharmacy. I would take 4 types of pills for sugar levels, two for cholesterol – well, then came to a point that I was taking 15 pills a day. I finally went to the doctor and he told me if I did not go on a diet and start exercising he would have to start injecting insulin into my system. I don’t know if he told me that to scare me, but the truth is that it did scare me and my son would not stop asking me to go running to motivate me. On July 11th of 2012, I set my self to do it and that is how I began.

What were/are your health goals?
My goal was not to be diabetic. I was tired of taking so many pills. Now my goal is to get back to my normal weight of 170 pounds.

Have you seen changes in your health since you started exercising?
Definitely. I’ve since started to eat differently – I eat green salads, fruit, I drink a lot of water and all this with my exercise routine, I’ve lost 35 pounds. Today I’m feeling energized and the best part is that I’ve been able to control my sugar and colesterol. I don’t have to take pills anymore.

Do you prefer exercising by yourself or with a workout partner?
I find more motivation when I workout with someone else, but a lot of times I don’t find anyone to exercise with. But that doesn’t keep me from working out.

How has your workout routine affected you?
I sleep better at night, I’m more careful about what I eat and how much I eat (I prefer Subway) and I feel more agile, especially since a big belly isn’t getting in the way anymore. But the best part is definitely that I’ve manged to lose all that excess weight. As I mentioned, I lost 35 pounds!

A Story From the Heart

View in Spanish

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.

Powerful People – Desean Jordan

Read Desean’s story of how he found strength through hard times.

Angioplasty, aneurism, aortic coarctation, stent placement. Terms like these have shaped Desean Jordan’s life.

Born with a heart defect, complications followed Desean into adolescence and young adulthood. Now a college sophomore at North Carolina A&T University, Desean strives to turn his burden into blessings.

Desean was raised in a single-parent household in The Bronx, where his mom instilled in him the importance of education. He focuses on excelling in the classroom, being an active member of multiple accounting societies and building a successful career in finance.

Although Desean remembers the hard times when his family couldn’t afford groceries because his mother’s salary didn’t cover the cost of food, heart medication and hospital bills, he also recalls the community rallying around his family with emotional and financial support.

Desean has found strength in living a purposeful life. “A wise man once told me that any ordinary person can fall down, but it takes an extraordinary person to get back up,” he said. “I will not let my heart condition hinder my spirits. It’s more of a blessing than a burden.”