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29th October 2015

Marathon Runner Survives Stroke by Racing to Care

As a stroke coordinator for a hospital, Teri Ackerson knew the signs of a stroke, and what to do if someone displayed those symptoms. What she didn’t know was that sooner rather than later she would need to put this knowledge to use, while dealing with a stroke herself.

Teri Ackerson was on holiday with her family when she decided to go out for a run, as part of her training for an upcoming marathon. She ran 6 miles, went home to take a shower, and headed out to get a coffee with her son, Parker.

On the drive home, Teri stopped at a red light. One moment, she was having a conversation with Parker, and the next, everything changed. “All of a sudden, she kind of lost feeling in her hand, and I saw the coffee cup starting to slip,” remembers Parker.

She tried to ask Parker to take the coffee cup out of her hand. “The words that were in my mind were not coming out of my mouth”. It was then that her son realized Teri’s face was drooping. “Parker looked at me and he said, ‘Mom, you’re having a stroke.’”

Running against the clock

As a stroke coordinator for the Centerpoint Medical Center in Independence, Missouri, Teri educated Parker from a young age to recognize the signs and symptoms of stroke. Parker knew that his mother was demonstrating the F.A.S.T. stroke warning signs: Face Drooping, Arm Weakness, Speech Difficulty, Time to Call 911.

Because they were already in the car, Teri and Parker changed positions and drove straight to the emergency room. “We were half a mile away from a primary stroke care center. I was there within 7 minutes of my symptom onset,” Teri recalls.

The primary stroke care center was able to administer tPA, a drug that quickly dissolves blood clots to restore blood flow to the brain. The sooner a stroke patient receives the drug, the better their chances are for recovery. “You lose about 2 million brain cells a minute when you have a stroke,” Teri explains, “so you have to be treated as fast as you can to avoid serious disability.”

Back on her feet and ready to run

After she survived her stroke, one of Teri’s biggest fears was that she would not be able to be a productive part of society. “As a nurse, that was incredibly scary to me, because I do know the numbers, and I do know how devastating and catastrophic that could be,” she says.  “But when you’re treated quickly, you’re more than likely going to be able to walk out of the hospital, so 12 days after my stroke, I ran 12 miles.” And then, 26 days after her stroke, Teri decided to run a marathon.

When the day of the marathon came, Teri knew she would start with the other runners, but she didn’t know where her finish line would be. “I still doubted myself, but I wanted to try. So I started at the beginning”. As it turned out, Teri felt amazing the whole race.

“I kept on looking at the medic tents, and I didn’t need to go to one,” she says. “At mile 17 I thought, ‘I’m in single digits! I’m in single digits. I only have 9 miles left.’ And then at mile 25, I actually thought, ‘I’m gonna do this! I’m gonna be a marathon runner.” Teri finished the marathon and has since run another. Her goal is to run 3 or 4 marathons each year.

Giving hope to stroke victims

Now that she is back to work, Teri’s relationship with her patients is on a much deeper level. “The fear of losing control and not being able to make your body work the way it works all on its own, I felt that fear,” she explains. “Now I can look in my patient’s eyes when I hold their hand and see fear in their eyes and gently whisper to them, ‘I have been in this bed; it will get better.’”

Teri’s personal journey is an inspiration to her patients. After 6 months of rehabilitation therapy, Teri has fully regained her arm movement, but still has a slight facial droop. “They can see how amazing your recovery can be. So I do give them hope,” she says.

Teri continues to volunteer with the American Heart Association as a member of the Kansas City Bi-State Stroke Consortium, and became a Go Red For Women ambassador last fall. “If I can just help one person prevent, or one person get to the hospital in time, so they are not a part of that long-term disability group, I’m over the moon,” she says.

Raising awareness

Thursday, October 29, is World Stroke Day 2015, and this year’s theme is “I am Woman.” The World Stroke Organization is trying to raise awareness on the fact that women are more at risk of having a stroke and are more likely to die from a stroke than a man. Some stroke risks are also specific to women. Pregnancy-related diabetes, preeclampsia, the use of birth control pills, hormone replacement therapy and hormonal change all increase the risk of stroke for women.

To find out more visit the World Stroke Campaign website: http://www.worldstrokecampaign.org/get-involved/world-stroke-day-2015.html