After two strokes and heart surgery, mom of two wants to inspire others

When Kelly Naab had a mini-stroke while in the car, her first thought was for her kids.

“I had to calm my kids down before I did anything else,” Kelly, of Buffalo, NY, said. Her three-year-old and her six-year-old were in the backseat and could tell something was wrong.

Kelly said they were waiting in a drive-thru line when she lost feeling in her face and right side. She tried to ask for help at the window and couldn’t.

“As a nurse practitioner, I knew what was happening once I looked in the mirror.”

The symptoms only lasted for a few seconds. After shaking it off and calming her kids down, Kelly decided to drive to her doctor’s office nearby.  Her doctor sent her to the hospital, where she was diagnosed with a transient ischemic attack, or TIA. A TIA is caused by a clot temporarily blocking blood flow to the brain and can often be a warning of a larger stroke.

After several tests, doctors found a hole in her heart that most likely caused the TIA.

“They put me on a blood thinner to help prevent further stroke and told me to carry on with my life, that I didn’t need anything else,” Kelly said. “It was hard. I struggled mentally to get back into life.”

Kelly had always been a runner, but she said getting back on the road was scary. She wanted to be healthy and physically active to help prevent another stroke. She worked to get over her fears and ran three half-marathons in the years after her TIA. Kelly said as time went on, it got easier to believe it wouldn’t happen again.

Five years after her TIA, it did.

In 2018, Kelly was turning 40 and felt she was in the best shape of her life, both mentally and physically. That summer, she suffered a head injury while working out. A few weeks later, she thought her concussion symptoms like headache, nausea, and dizziness, were getting worse. When she went to the doctor to help, she found out she had an ischemic stroke.

Kelly was lucky and didn’t lose any muscle or speech function with her stroke. However, it was still a slow recovery. She had surgery that October to close the hole in her heart to help prevent any further strokes.

“It was a congenital heart defect. I went 35 years and two babies and never knew. Who knows when else it could have been a problem,” Kelly said.

Kelly is sharing her story to help inspire others. She wants to remind women that stroke and heart disease can happen to anyone at any time.

“A woman from Southern Maine googled ‘stroke in runners’ and found my story,” Kelly said. The two struck up a friendship and Kelly was able to help the woman since they both went through the same heart surgery.

“I decided I wasn’t going to let it define me, but it’s part of who I am and there is a reason for that.”

Kelly is also an advocate for research and care for women. Years ago, the procedure to repair the hole in her heart would have been an open-heart surgery. Thanks to research and advancements in medical procedures, Kelly’s was done through her leg.

“If I can help one person with my story, it’s worth it.”

Kelly will share her story with the crowd at the 2023 Buffalo CycleNation on Sunday, November 5th at ADPRO Sports Training Center.