Ten local stroke survivors are boldly sharing their stories as part of the American Heart Association’s recently launched Stroke Ambassador program in Greater Boston.
The 2021 class of Stroke Ambassadors aim to raise awareness of stroke warning signs, prevention and recovery. As volunteers for the American Heart Association and American Stroke Association, their powerful survivor stories will inspire others to understand that stroke is a leading cause of death and disability and empower them to take action to lower their risk.
Strokes don’t discriminate. One in 4 people worldwide will have a stroke, but up to 80% of first strokes may be prevented. By making small changes, people can reduce their risk and improve brain function.
The Stroke Ambassadors all hail from Massachusetts and represent a group of survivors who actively, urgently and passionately participate in the mission of the American Heart Association. Often the surprising faces of cardiovascular disease, Stroke Ambassadors share their survivor stories to raise awareness and inspire others to take charge of their own health through education, lifestyle changes and personal advocacy.
These men and women are a reminder that someone in the U.S. has a stroke every 40 seconds, on average. Their stories aim to band people together to collectively take action to end stroke.
The American Heart Association’s Stoke Ambassador program is locally sponsored by Encompass Health.
Meet our 2021 class.
Melissa Bevelaqua had a stroke in 2016, 12 days after giving birth to twins. At the time, she was experiencing elevated blood pressure, neck pain and headaches. After a short stint in a rehab facility, she was able to return home to be with her babies. Melissa, 50, has since recovered fully, which she said her neurologist called “a miracle.”
Ted Bunn had a massive stroke in February of 2020 that left him unable to move the right side of his body. Following his stroke, he had to re-learn how to bathe himself and needed help with other everyday activities. Since then, he said he has made “miraculous progress” and only has lingering physical side effects, like tingling in his fingers and numbness in his mouth. He still has some language limitations, however, and undergoes speech therapy twice a week. Ted, 49, said he wants to share his story and give people “help and hope.”
Delmira De Pina
In 2010, just after graduating from college, Delmira De Pina had a stroke. She underwent physical therapy for months to regain strength on the left side of her body. After a lengthy recovery, Delmira, 32, earned her master’s degree and started a blog dedicated to topics stroke survivors care about. Delmira wants to be an inspiration to other stroke survivors and help them get through their experience. She also wants people to know that strokes can happen to anyone at any age.
Lisa Deck has had four stokes and battled a rare disorder that required brain surgery. Today, she is a passionate advocate for improving the lives of those affected by cardiovascular diseases. Lisa, 45, gives motivational speeches and lobbies Massachusetts legislators for policies that will help stroke victims get the proper treatment.
Six years ago, Jessica Diaz had just finished exercising when she suddenly felt a shooting pain down the left side of her body. A brain scan revealed she had suffered a stroke. Thankfully, Jessica has made a full recovery. She now uses her experience to raise awareness of stroke warning signs and prevention. Jessica, 43, also advocates for life-saving legislation and shares her story to various groups and in the media.
Rachel Henry had a stroke when she was at her doctor’s office for a routine physical examination. She received immediate care, which saved her life and kept the effects of the stroke to a minimum. After her stroke, Rachel fought her way back and eventually returned to work as a teacher in the Worcester Public Schools. Rachel, 47, is passionate about sharing her story and advocating for policies that will improve the care of stroke patients.
Lawrence Hill was 39 when a stroke in 2019 left him temporarily confined to a wheelchair. Before his stroke, Lawrence was an energetic person who went to the gym regularly and sang with a touring a cappella group. One year later, he credits rehab for allowing him to get back on stage and return to work full-time. He says the road to recovery was tough but necessary, and he is now able to walk miles again.
Jayme Kelly had a stroke in 2019 when she was just 29. At the time, she was a nurse at Boston Children’s Hospital and was fit and healthy. While Jayme has made impressive improvements in the year since her stroke – she’s able to do CrossFit now – she still has a ways to go. She can’t feel her right hand, and she struggles to read and write. As Jayme continues her road to recovery, she wants to let young people who have had strokes know they are not alone.
Howard Schulman was having lunch at a restaurant in February of 2020 when he suddenly felt lightheaded. He knew something was off, but it wasn’t until he went home and discovered he couldn’t write that he went to the hospital. At the hospital, his speech slurred and his arm and leg grew numb. He was told he had suffered a stroke. After five days in the hospital, two weeks in a rehab facility, and several more weeks of at-home rehab, Howard, 65, has made a full recovery. He wants to make sure people know the stroke warning signs so they can get treatment as quickly as possible.
Mark Spanek credits his 2018 stroke for being the “wake up call” that made him realize he needed to make lifestyle changes. Since then, he has lost 60 pounds and plans to lose even more weight. Mark, 60, also credits getting treated quickly following his stroke, as well as the time he spent in rehabilitation, for his recovery. He has since returned to work and experiences minimal effects from his stroke.
About the American Heart Association
The American Heart Association is a relentless force for a world of longer, healthier lives. We are dedicated to ensuring equitable health in all communities. Through collaboration with numerous organizations, and powered by millions of volunteers, we fund innovative research, advocate for the public’s health and share lifesaving resources. The Dallas-based organization has been a leading source of health information for nearly a century.
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