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Stroke: Stories of survival

Hollie Knight Toland: A family affair

For this survivor, support led to healing.

For Hollie Knight Toland, a family history of strokes still made it hard to believe that she could have a stroke.

"I was in good health, and I truly never thought it could happen to me," she said.

That all changed one Sunday evening in February when her symptoms began.

"When it first happened, I started drooling a little bit, but it didn't last long," she recalled. "After that, I could think, but I couldn't speak. My husband would ask me questions, but I couldn't get the words out. I could not talk."

The next morning, the doctors in Jackson Hospital's emergency room confirmed her fears: She had experienced a stroke.

Toland was admitted to the hospital and stayed for about a week.

"The doctors and the nurses were extremely good to me," Toland said. "They kept a good check on me, and I really appreciated that."

Fortunately for Toland, she didn't face any physical impairments after the stroke. "I know that my damage is not severe like a lot of people," she said. "I didn't have bleeding on the brain or anything, but I can't believe how much damage it does to you—to your memory, to your brain, everything. I have good function in my arms, limbs and my body, but I still have problems with some of my sentences. I used to be able to articulate things pretty well, but I still have a little bit of trouble finding the right word sometimes."

Now that Toland has accepted the reality of her stroke and is on the road to recovery, she has advice for others.

"It's something that everybody needs to be more cautious of," she said. "If you could just teach people to believe that it could happen to them. I thought you had to really be in pain for it to be a stroke, but it isn't always that way. I wasn't in pain."

As for her advice for those who have already had a stroke, she said acceptance is key.

"Things will get better, " she said. "It may not ever be back the way it was but you will get better."

Brian Hill

Seeing a stroke as a blessing.

Brian Hill had just put out a cigarette when the symptoms began: One side of his face was droopy and numb, and his speech was slurred.

"My mouth and face got numb—a numb tingly feeling at first," the 56-yearold stroke survivor recalled. "Once that happened, my arms started feeling tingly. When that happened, I knew. I knew I was having a stroke."

Hill's co-worker knew something was wrong and called 911. When paramedics arrived, they put Hill on a stretcher and took him to Jackson Hospital.

Once at the hospital, Hill's doctor gave him a shot with hopes of reversing the effects of the stroke.

"The doctor gave me that shot and told me there was about a 70 percent chance that it would work, but a 30 percent chance that I could die," Hill said. "There was also a chance I could have an aneurysm."

Karen Baggett, RN, stroke coordinator at Jackson Hospital, said the shot Hill received is called TPA (tissue plasminogen activator), which is a powerful clot-busting drug that is used to improve recovery and reduce disability in certain patients who have had a stroke.

"It works by helping to break down or bust the blood clots that are blocking the blood supply to the brain," Baggett explained. "If given within three hours from the time the stroke symptoms begin, it can help reverse the stroke-like symptoms and return the patients back to their normal level of functioning."

For Hill, the shot was successful.

Hill began therapy at HealthSouth Rehabilitation Hospital of Montgomery.

"They did a lot for my confidence, because when I couldn’t move my hands or legs, I thought I was going to be like that forever," he explained. "I did everything they asked me to do, and I did it so diligently. I still had no mobility in my arm and I had to use a walker. They gave me exercises to do at home. I continued to do those and I rehabbed myself."

Hill later transitioned to Rehab Associates at Jackson Hospital to continue his therapy. During his therapy, he saw other patients who inspired him to keep going.

"I would see someone walking on his own and say, 'I'm going to do that,'" Hill explained. "My therapists have been outstanding. They have gotten me a little bit further along in my recovery, but we still have work to do. I don't believe I'll be able to go back to where I was before the stroke, but I'll get much better than I am. I don't use a walker or a cane anymore, either one. The people at Rehab Associates have been everything and more."

A new perspective

On July 31, Hill will mark one year since his stroke. As that anniversary approaches, he is able to look at life with a new perspective.

"It may sound crazy, but the stroke has stopped me from doing a lot of things I was doing to myself," Hill said. "I was smoking and drinking before the stroke, and I haven't since. Now, if I think about a cigarette, I remember that the last time I had one was right before I had a stroke."

His recovery has helped him become more active. Hill walks, cuts grass, does regular exercises and hopes to run one day.

"The stroke has been a blessing for me," he said. "It has become part of my testimony."

Act FAST!

FAST is an acronym used to assist with quick recognition of stroke symptoms.

Face drooping: Ask the person to smile. Is one side of his or her face suddenly numb or weak?

Arm weakness: Is one arm or one side of the person’s body suddenly numb or weak? Ask him or her to raise both arms. Does one arm drift downward?

Speech difficulty: Is the person’s speech suddenly slurred or garbled? Can he or she repeat a sentence?

Time: to go seek medical care by calling 911. Treatment within the first three hours of signs of a stroke is critical!

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