Secily Wilson, 52, of Lake Mary, had all the warning signs: recurring headaches, blurred vision, fainting episodes and confusion. As most people do, however, she explained them away. Her life as a morning television anchor was challenging enough, and at that time she was also going through a divorce and taking care of her two daughters, ages 5 and 15 at the time.
But at 5:30 am one day in 2005, when her floor director cued her to go on air, she couldn't ignore the signs anymore.
It was lights, camera, but no action, Secily recalls. Her words were slurred and unrecognizable. What was happening?
A Fateful Assignment
Incredibly, Secily had recently interviewed a stroke survivor. So a few minutes after going off the air, she went to her computer to listen to that interview. That's when she knew she must have experienced a stroke. At the hospital, doctors confirmed it. Secily, just 39 at the time, had suffered several mini-strokes, also known as transient ischemic attacks (TIAs).
I was unable to speak for about six weeks, Secily says. She didn't let that get her down, however. She worked with a speech pathologist and eventually returned to work.
Little did she know, nine years later it would happen again.
The Second Time Around
Secily was working in her office on November 10, 2014, when she noticed something didn't feel right. It was difficult to formulate her words.
She mentioned it to a friend but shrugged it off as the result of a long day at work. The next morning, the right side of her face was drooping. When she began brushing her teeth, she couldn't hold the saliva in her mouth. And when she went to wake her daughter, Secily's speech was garbled.
When she arrived at AdventHealth Orlando, medical scans and tests confirmed it was a stroke. She was treated by neurologist Indrani Acosta, MD, who prescribed a clot-busting medication called tissue plasminogen activator, commonly called tPA.
The medication dissolves the clot and improves blood flow to the portion of the brain being deprived of blood. If given within three hours of symptoms beginning, tPA may improve the chances of recovery. Sadly, many stroke victims don't get to the hospital in time for treatment, which is why it's so important to identify a stroke immediately.
How to Reduce the Risk of Stroke
When it comes to prevention, patients must take things into their own hands, says Pradip Jamnadas, MD, medical director of cardiovascular interventions at AdventHealth Orlando. After the fact, it's too late.
The No. 1 thing Dr. Jamnadas encourages patients to do is eat right. A plant-based diet reduces your risk across the board, he says. It reduces high blood pressure, weight, high cholesterol. Studies show if you adjust your diet, you get better results than with medicine.
Also on Dr. Jamnadas list of recommended steps are exercising daily, managing stress, sleeping at least seven hours each night and getting regular checkups. At your medical visit, ask: Hows my blood pressure? Hows my cholesterol? Is my body weight ideal? What more can I do to reduce my risk?
Getting Back on the Air
Communication is my life, Secily says, and not having the ability to effectively do that wasn't just frustrating, it was scary. However, I'm a fighter, and I wasn't going down like that.
Determined to regain her air quality voice again, Secily worked aggressively with a speech therapist. Today, her communication skills are better than ever.
She has also become a community advocate, taking every opportunity to educate others about taking care of themselves, recognizing the symptoms of stroke and seeking immediate medical attention.