A STROKE SURVIVOR’S PERSONAL TRIUMPH
By Sarah Fedele, Director of Communications for the AHA of the Triad
Meredith Gorham, better known as Boo to her family and friends, was born and raised in Greensboro. She played soccer for the Grimsley High School Team, the NC Select Team, and continued her soccer career at East Carolina University and at UNC-Greensboro. “I had practiced and played in two degree weather,” shares Meredith. “I never had any warning signs that something was wrong.”
At 29 years old, Meredith had become a wife and a mom to three great boys – Austin, William and Nolan, who was four months old. “I had come home from a friend’s house and we had dinner and got the boys into bed,” remembers Meredith. “I tried to stand up and then fell immediately to the floor. I tried to stand up again and fell right back down.” Her husband, Chris, ran into the den and laid her down on the couch. He called 911 and said “I think my wife is having a seizure.” “My eyes were open, but I couldn’t see,” recalls Meredith. “I could hear everything – the ambulance, the firefighters, their walkie talkies, and my mom and dad when they arrived. I distinctly remember my dad bending down close to me and asking “Boo, can you hear me?” and then standing back up and saying ‘she has blacked out.’ He was right – I blacked out right then and woke up four days later in the hospital.”
Meredith had a stroke because of an undetected hole in her heart. “When she woke up, I told her that she’d had a stroke. She looked at me, smiled and then went back to sleep,” remembers Chris. Meredith only remembers bits and pieces over the next four days and she could only say a few words, like “yes,” “no,” “what” and “hi.” After five days, Boo could get up and walk. On her eighth day at the hospital, she was released to go home. “I slept about hours a day for about the next month as my brain continued to heal,” says Meredith.
“I never cried until about three months after when my sister sent me two pictures that she had taken of me at the hospital with Chris and with my mom and my sisters,” shares Meredith. “I balled my eyes out when I saw the pictures. That was when it really sank in that I had suffered a stroke. My life had forever changed for me and my family.”
Several months later, she had surgery to repair the hole in her heart. With dedicated speech therapy, her speech all returned. Though Austin, her oldest son, still recalls, “I remember when mom couldn’t talk.”
Meredith also underwent physical therapy, occupational therapy and even counseling. “About a year and a half into my recovery, I was just sad,” confesses Meredith. “I was always an extrovert and a happy-go-lucky person. Focused on recovering, I had turned into an introvert. My life had changed. Counseling helped me realize that my family was my tremendous support network and that my normal social life would return in time and it did.”
On the verge of the 10th anniversary of her stroke, Meredith has reason to celebrate. She deals with constant pain in her right foot that she manages with medication and has nerve damage and involuntary movement in her right foot and right hand. “When someone notices my hand move on its own in the grocery store, my philosophy is ‘It is what it is,’” smiles Boo. She also deals with occasional thought process delays with her speech. This does not sound like a reason to celebrate, but Boo sees things differently. At 29, she could have lost her life, left her family, and missed out on so many special moments. “I have always been a positive person,” says Meredith. “If you are dealing with stroke or are helping one of your loved ones recover from a stroke, stay positive and never give up! It is not easy, but staying positive makes a big difference.”
May is American Stroke Month and the American Heart Association’s Greater Guilford Heart and Stroke Walk is taking place on May 18th at UNC Greensboro. All funds raised at the walk benefit heart disease and stroke research and education. To form a walk team or to donate, visit www.guilfordheartwalk.org.