The days that changed everything. One morning when I woke up at the age of 32 I had a slight pain in the back of my neck. While making my way to the closet to put on my pajama pants I kind of lost balance and felt dizzy, as I splashed water on my face in the sink I saw swirls of color in the mirror and then felt pressure in my chest. Thinking it was anxiety, I made my way to the bed to lay down. Yelled for my husband and as he came in he was asking what is going on? Would you assume it’s a stroke?
I didn’t. And I waited 2 days to seek medical attention. I was a ticking time bomb.
But at that time, I was a tired mom of a toddler boy, a busy wife, a working mom who had a stressful job and I didn’t have time to go to the ER! I honestly thought it was some kind of reaction from a test I had done a few days prior to check of I was able to have another child. I was 32, severely overweight with my scale topping at 270lbs, I was an occasional smoker, extremely tired all the time and lacked any type of fitness regimen. When my stroke was actually happening the thought never crossed my mind that it was a Stroke.
After making it to the doctor, an evaluation the doc was thinking maybe an inner ear infection…. but then found that I didn’t have my full strength in my left leg or hand, and when the doctor asked me to look at him (my head was stuck in a downward position) and I couldn’t, and my headache in the back of my neck was getting worse, he called for the fastest MRI I have ever seen. Tests revealed I had a Stroke. A spontaneous vertebral artery tear. So, like what’s a vertebral artery tear. What in the world is that? In my terms, it’s a tear that happens in the vertebral artery which supplies blood to the brain, and spontaneous….NO REASON. My husband and I were dumbfounded. A week in ICU, conversations of brain surgery possibilities, turning to my husband and telling him to go create a will, wondering if my son was ok, what would he do while I was in the ICU, he needs his mommy. Then, 11 months in what I call first recovery really struggling with why it happened, what did I do to cause this? Why did I survive? What would my son and husband do with out me? Then, by the grace of the good Lord I was able to receive the all clear in 2011 from my Doctor. I was told one thing, to get my body moving.
“Just give me 5 minutes on the treadmill every day Kelly.” said my Doctor, and I did it. Now, that first night I did my 5 minutes I came slowly out of my bedroom beaded in sweat. In my Husbands general direction I probably yelled or tried to. Breathing heavy I said “This is ridiculous!! People have Cars to get around!” My awesome Husband just looked at me and said, he wants 5 minutes, if not for you then for our son. Well dang that’s all I needed to hear…so I got my 270lb body on that treadmill for my 5 minutes every night. In a months’ time that treadmill was no longer a clothes hanger, it was my path to freedom. This led to walking faster which led to a passion for running. I finished my very first 5k a minute under 1 hour and I was thrilled.
Things changed a bit when I developed several health issues which I thought were stemming from my Stroke medications that I previously took and from my anxiety medications. My sense of self was lost and feelings whether up or down were never impactful. I was simply “getting through” the day. Depression set in deeper, survivors guilt and feeling very rebellious in my health habits were severe.
I had to turn it around and in 2012 I studied clean eating and learned how to cook (sad but I could barely boil water before!), these were life changing for me. With learning about nutrition, supplements, my new-found love of running and then beginning my CrossFit journey I found myself feeling better, healthier, stronger and more mentally clear. In 2013 we were beyond blessed with our second child post stroke which is just a miracle. After a miscarriage in 2009 and then being told that it was not recommended to have another baby after my stroke, our daughter truly is our sunshine mixed with a tornado.
It was not until 2014 when my Dad, my Hero, the best Retired Houston Firefighter/EMT ever was called above that I truly started sharing my story in the hopes of helping someone else. Dad always told me that I survived because God had big plans for me here, of course he was my biggest supporter and encourager. I found my purpose in helping others and I began to take risks. Being a stroke survivor presented a plethora of emotions and obstacles and I didn’t acknowledge the severity nor blessing that my stroke was. I really never spoke much of it because I was ashamed of it. Learning to move past certain mental block I truly found my passion for helping others in wellness. I was so lost when my doctor told me to get healthy. My hope is to spread stroke awareness, help in healthy journeys and empower those who seek a change! My wellness company Empowered Strides was born out of my survival, and my love for helping people in health and awareness.
I have always been a plus size woman and still am, however, this does not define me. What defines me is my heart. The scale does not dictate my happiness like it once used to. Embracing my curves and muscle or murves has been empowering while I am still continuing to shed fat and gain muscle I embrace my body as it is. I’ve learned life-changing valuable lessons that I pass on to my children. Through fitness and eating healthy, I’ve found the love and compassion for my body and my mind, what it can do and has done. Before my Stroke I would have never imagined that I would have finished several 5k’s, 10k’s and 6 Half Marathons (5 finished as one of my races a man on a bicycle collided with me-that is another story), how it taught me things about myself and that my body no matter how it looks is amazing. This love for lifting, CrossFit post-stroke is amazing, so much so that I pursued my level 1 training certificate and assistant coach at a box in Spring TX. I also have a podcast Unfiltered Survivors upcoming with my dear friend Amanda Dejesus who is a heart transplant survivor who I met through American Heart Association.
It’s ok to nourish your soul, it’s ok to reinvent yourself and chase after your dreams, but you must LISTEN to your body. We are so used to taking care of everyone else and ignore things we sometimes should not. Take time out for mental health, and physical health because only you live with yourself 24/7. My stroke saved my life, and my purpose is to help spread awareness, help others and love on people and empower women to go for dreams.
What does purpose mean to you?
About Kelly Fucheck: