Stroke survivor will walk waterfront on road to recovery

Fundraiser includes festival at Vancouver Landing this morning

By Marissa Harshman, Columbian health reporter



If you go

■ What: Heart & Stroke Walk, a fundraising event for the American Heart Association. Festival includes activities for children.

■ When: 8:30 a.m. to noon today. Walk begins at 10 a.m.

■ Where: Vancouver Landing, 100 Columbia St.

■ Information: 800-452-9445 or

Stroke Warning signs

There are two basic types of stroke. The more common blocks blood flow to the brain, possibly because of a clot or build-up of plaque in an artery.

The other kind involves bleeding in the brain, when the wall of a blood vessel weakens — often forming a bulge called an aneurysm — and leaks.

According to Dr. Robert Djergaian, physician director for rehabilitation services at Southwest Washington Medical Center, symptoms of a stroke include:

■ Loss of vision, especially on one side, or sudden double vision.

■ Trouble speaking (slurring or inability to articulate words).

■ Other problems with language — trouble understanding words or expressing oneself.

■ Unexplained weakness on one side of the body.

■ Numbness or tingling on one side of the body.

■ Severe headaches (common when aneurysms leak blood into the brain).

Holly Carson was 32 years old and 8½ months’ pregnant when bleeding in her brain caused a stroke nearly two years ago.

Initially, Carson was unaware she had suffered a stroke that night.

She awoke in the middle of the night and reached for a glass of water. As she sipped, water ran down the left side of her face. Confused, she got out of bed and looked in the mirror. The left side of her face was sagging.

“Being young and healthy, I didn’t think much about major medical emergencies,” Carson said. “It was only my training and education as a flight attendant that made me think, ‘Stroke.’”

She woke up her husband, Donovan, and explained, through slurred speech, that she needed to go to the hospital.

As she waited for the ambulance, she lost function on the left side of her body and had a severe headache.

A CAT scan showed a large bleed in the right side of Carson’s brain.

Carson, who lived in Albuquerque, N.M., at the time, was admitted to the hospital, where she stayed until she delivered her daughter, Chloe, on July 19, 2009. She spent two days in the hospital with her healthy newborn. Then she was put in an ambulance and sent to a rehabilitation facility.

“I just sort of surrendered to the process of rehab and recovery,” she said. “I did want to go home but not under the condition I was in, because what good would I be to my family?”

Carson spent three weeks at the facility before finally returning home. But her recovery didn’t end there. Her days were taken over by doctor and occupational therapy appointments.

Nearly two years later, Carson is still working on her recovery. She has limited use of her left arm and hand and walks with a slight limp. But she sets goals, such as walking without a cane, and works until she achieves them.

This morning, Carson will tackle another goal: walking in the American Heart Association’s Heart & Stroke Walk at Vancouver Landing.

Carson, who moved to Vancouver in March 2010, participated in the event last year but was physically limited in how far she could walk.

Today, Carson will be joined by hundreds of other survivors of stroke and heart attack and their families for the fundraising event.

Every year, nearly 800,000 people in the U.S. have a stroke, and every four minutes someone dies from a stroke, according to the American Heart Association. In the Northwest, the stroke death rate continues to be significantly higher than the national rate, according to the Northwest Regional Stroke Network.

Rates in Oregon and Washington are among the highest in the region, but experts haven’t been able to pinpoint why, said Dr. Robert Djergaian, physician director for rehabilitation services at Southwest Washington Medical Center.

Smoking, diabetes and high cholesterol are all risk factors that increase the odds of having a stroke, regardless of where one lives, he said.

Carson said she was healthy and active during her pregnancy. Physicians haven’t been able to determine why Carson had a stroke, but point to the stress on her body due to pregnancy as a likely contributor.

“That just changed everything,” she said of the stroke. “My life is forever changed, because I have to share my stroke recovery with my family.”

Marissa Harshman: 360-735-4546;, Twitter: col_health.