By Caroline Hamrick / American Heart Association 

     Most of us learn to walk in our first few years of life and never look back. Kimberly Saunders did the same, even becoming a Division 1 student and track athlete at North Carolina State University. She never thought she would have to relearn how to run, let alone walk. 

     Kimberly was 41 years old when she suffered a massive stroke. For multiple days, Kimberly had been suffering from a painful headache. On June 10th, 2017, she woke up extremely disoriented with pain in her left leg. “I remember trying to make it down two flights of stairs, leaving my apartment and trying to get in my car,” recalled Kimberly. Kimberly’s neighbor witnessed the FAST warning signs of a stroke occurring in Kimberly and called 911.

     After arriving at the hospital, Kimberly was immediately transported via helicopter to a specialized brain and stroke hospital. Doctors removed part of her skull to alleviate swelling and she spent three weeks in a coma. They weren’t sure if she would ever speak or walk again. “I woke up two months later around my birthday and they told me I had a stroke,” remembered Kimberly. 

     Kimberly spent a few months in inpatient rehabilitation and then continued her rehab at Cone Outpatient Neurorehabilitation Center. Kimberly has made tremendous progress but still suffers from weakness on her left side. She continues making progress every day.

     Kimberly is going to have a team for the American Heart Association’s 2020 Greater Guilford Heart and Stroke Walk, taking place on May 16, 2020. She is excited to participate in the 5k and has a goal to raise $2,500 to benefit heart disease and stroke research and prevention education. Last year, Kimberly raised over $1,000. “I went from having five people help me get in the house to walking a 5k last year,” shared Kimberly.

     Before suffering from the stroke, Kimberly didn’t have high blood pressure. The only physical side effect she remembers having is the headache. Doctors eventually discovered that Kimberly had a weak blood vessel that burst. 

     “I want everyone to know the F.A.S.T. warning signs of a stroke. My neighbor, who we now call my angel, recognized that my left side was weak and took action. She saved my life,” shared Kimberly. 

     “I also want people to know that there is life after a stroke. If you work closely with your primary care doctor, stay positive and work very hard, you can make it. I always smile,” said Kimberly. “My mom and dad, my family, and my church family at McLeansville First Baptist Church all support me and that helps me get through life after the stroke. My church is my refuge and I tell all the survivors I meet to stay positive and keep moving forward!” 

May is American Stroke Month and the American Heart Association’s Greater Guilford Heart and Stroke Walk is taking place on May 16th at UNC Greensboro. All funds raised at the walk benefit heart disease and stroke research and education in our community. 

To form a walk team or to donate, visit