A stroke can change a life in a matter of moments. What happens when a stroke is at the intersection of your work and your health?
Meet Betty Dennis, Ph.D. She is a professor at Western Michigan University’s Interdisciplinary Health Services. She teaches in the area of healthcare services and sciences with an emphasis on diversity and inclusion, and health determinants. Her students will be working with patients upon graduation.
Imagine what her classroom has been like since her stroke recovery began.
“I never realized I would be both a professor and patient to my students studying occupational therapy, physical therapy, nursing and physician assistant,” said Dr. Dennis. “They can feel my arm and the spasticity (muscles that are tight, stiff or continuously contracted). They can listen to my daily challenges. I’m teaching from a real-life situation.”
Her stroke happened in August of 2014 when she went to a meeting at her church in Kalamazoo and her arm gave out. It fell limp.
“I thought to myself that this is not right,” recalls Dr. Dennis. “I told the people with me that I was having a stroke and to call 9-1-1.”
Looking back, she doesn’t think she had many risk factors, although she concedes that she was in a high-pressure position. She had a severe headache the night before, and that might have been her strongest indicator.
“There was a demanding atmosphere at work back then,” Dennis says. “I thought I was handling it.” She was a married mother of three who showed no symptoms of heart disease and her blood pressure readings were normal when she visited the doctor’s office.
What was in Dr. Dennis’ favor was that she was able to call for help immediately.
She went through intensive rehabilitation at Ascension Borgess Medical Center. This was followed by outpatient therapy and working out daily at the Living Well Fitness Center. She also had her strong faith and a family that never left her side day or night.
“I’m still working out,’” she says. “It takes time to heal. My speech has really improved enough so that I can be in the classroom, and there are times when I still have to concentrate on my enunciation. I have partial paralysis on my right side, and I have a severe limp and trouble with my right hand.”
Dennis is resolute in her faith to live a purposeful life even with these physical challenges.
“Being educated about stroke symptoms is so important,” Dennis says. “It’s also important to make exercise a part of your daily lifestyle, and not just aerobic, but also strengthening.”
Go Red for Women touches on both heart disease and stroke as cardiovascular issues in women. The American Heart Association launched the effort in 2004 to educate women that these are their No. 1 and No. 5 health issues.
Dennis now shares her story with everyone who will listen. Her journey of recovery from stroke is not one she would have chosen, but she says it has created a mission—to educate people, especially her students, to know symptoms and stay strong and healthy.
“Stroke can happen to anyone,” Dennis says. “I want people to listen to their bodies. It can save a life.”
Not all strokes can be prevented, but up to 80 percent may be by not smoking, making healthy food choices, getting enough physical activity, maintaining a healthy weight, and treating conditions such as high blood sugar, high cholesterol and high blood pressure.
Even if you have a condition that puts you at high risk like uncontrolled high blood pressure, diabetes or AFib, you may reduce your risk with the choices you make each day.
Knowing the common warning signs and what to do in a stroke emergency may help you save a life or reduce disability. To remember the stroke warning signs, remember the acronym F.A.S.T.