Thursday, August 28, 2008

Stroke Survivor

Dina Pagnotta, Stroke Survivor

Following is Dina's story, as told at the Heart of New York gala at the Waldorf=Astoria on March 19, 2008.

Dina Pagnotta

I am honored to be here this evening as we continue our crusade in the fight against heart disease and stroke. We all think of stroke as being an affliction of the elderly but approximately six years ago I had a stroke. I was 30 years old, I was and still am a runner, I had no risk factors, no family history. I was attending a seminar and began to feel faint. I took a sip of water, but oddly enough I couldn’t swallow. I began to shift toward my left side; my left arm wouldn’t move; my speech was slurred, and I began to cry. The next thing I knew, I was in an ambulance. The paramedic was calling the ER about a possible incoming stroke patient. When I arrived at the emergency room with what would be considered classic stroke symptoms, left-sided weakness and slurred speech, the staff didn’t immediately recognize what was wrong with me. I was too young to have a stroke.

Youth and stroke are not associated with each other. I abruptly discovered that stroke does not discriminate. My stroke was caused by a congenital heart defect that I was unaware of. Fortunately, I was properly diagnosed and received wonderful medical care. Although I recovered completely, physically, I understand that stroke survivorship is a life-long journey.

I’ve had my heart repaired through a 45-minute procedure that would have required open heart surgery if not for the current advances in medical technology. A titanium disc now sits between the chambers of my heart. There are many others who do not share my good fortune. There’s Sam, 34, who was starting medical school in September but had a stroke in June and now cannot articulate his thoughts; there’s Ginger, 36, whose 4-year-old daughter wonders why her mom can’t play with her as she used to. There’s David, 44, who was at the height of his career as a graphic artist but because of his stroke can’t sit at a computer for more than 5 minutes at a time. And there are so many others. What is equally disturbing is the lack of research in the area of stroke and the younger population. The data is paltry at best.

Stroke and heart disease are a major global health problem that affect people of all ages and demand primary prevention. They necessitate increasing public awareness and education. They require increased research. They require questions and answers. They require change. Having survived this traumatic event has inspired me to pose questions and seek answers. I can’t possibly convey how fortunate I feel to have gone through this experience physically unscathed but having acquired insight into this affliction and a passion to affect positive change.

Gandhi was quoted as saying: “Be the change you want to see in the world.” Change is everyone recognizing the signs and symptoms of stroke regardless of age. Change is prompt and comprehensive medical treatment in every hospital across the country. Change is erasing the notion that stroke only affects the elderly. Please join me along with the American Heart and Stroke Associations in making a difference. Together we can decrease the number of people affected by heart disease and stroke. Together we can be the change.