Laura Candella-Weimer and Amber Buckley were both in their 30s, working women with families who ate well and exercised regularly. They were also in their 30s when they each had a stroke.
They will share their stories during the American Stroke Association’s digital CycleNation experience on Thursday, Oct. 29, at noon. Throughout the month of October, participants have joined the nationwide effort to exercise 1 million miles and raise $1 million. To be part of the celebration and for information, head to CycleNation.org/Utica. The Zoom link for the event is https://heart.zoom.us/j/85191532310?pwd=ak5mRUh5bGVOZzl1Z2VRT2ljNWpodz09.
Buckley is just four months away from her stroke.
“I woke up at 5:30 on June 9 to do a workout,” the 38-year-old mother of two said. “I didn’t feel good, the room was spinning, and nothing was upright. I told my husband, and he said to have some water. I couldn’t swallow. He called 911.”
By the time Buckley got to the emergency department, she couldn’t move the right side of her body. Because of COVID-19, her husband Nick couldn’t come into the hospital with her.
Buckley received the clot-busting drug tPA, and had a procedure to break up the clot, which had traveled through a hole in her heart to her brain. In July, doctors repaired that hole.
Laura Candella-Weimer is 40, an actor, has always been physically active, and is a lifelong vegan. After she had a stroke two years ago, she asked herself how it could have happened to her.
Candella-Weimer was getting ready for church when she had her stroke.
“I had my makeup on, I was dressed, and my husband asked if I would make him breakfast; I couldn’t get out a verbal response. I just shook my head, and the room went blurry,” Candella-Weimer said. “The next thing I remember, I was on the couch, and then I recall my husband carrying me into the ER.”
Laura learned the importance of advocating for herself in the hospital. Although she couldn’t move and couldn’t feel anything, she was young and didn’t look sick. The doctor stood in the doorway to ask her questions.
“Because I’m a stay-at-home mom, he assumed I had some anxiety, stress. or depression; he advised me to go home, take Advil or Tylenol and rest,” Candella-Weimer said. “He suggested testing for Guillain-Barré. I refused that. Stroke runs in my family, so I insisted on a CT scan. If I’d taken his advice, gone home, and taken an Advil, I could be dead now.”
Tests showed that Candella-Weimer also had a hole in her heart. About 1 in 2,000 babies are born with a ventricular septal defect – a hole in the heart – and some aren’t detected until adulthood.
She had had a TIA – a transient ischemic attack, a kind of stroke. She had the hole in her heart repaired.
Looking back, Candella-Weimer recalls symptoms that she didn’t connect to stroke.
“I had some tingling in my hand, which I thought was maybe from texting too much,” she said. “I had migraines, but they were being treated. I had a rapid heart rate, but I thought maybe it was a result of working with the personal trainer at the gym. It’s really important for people to know what the symptoms are, and not ignore them.”
Both women attribute their strokes to birth control pills, which do carry a risk of stroke, particularly for smokers. They said that while they feel good now, they worry a little more.
“I was always anxious, and it’s a little worse now,” Buckley, who is working from home with her job with the Air Force Research Lab in Rome, said. “I worried about my kids before, but now it’s triple-fold. Little things make me anxious, too, like if my foot falls asleep.”
After her stroke, Buckley was in the ICU for two days, and in rehab for a week.
“I had Bell’s Palsy on my left side, and couldn’t move, blink or smile for about three weeks,” she said. “I missed six weeks of work. But now, I’m back at work, and back to working out. I even ran the Boilermaker this year.”
Both women had their children in the forefront of their minds as they went through stroke and recovery.
“During all of this, I worried most about not being there for my kids,” Candella-Weimer said. “That was always in the forefront of my mind. This TIA can’t and won’t take their mom away. They were 3, 4, and 6 when this happened. A couple of years have passed and though I don’t have residual effects, I do occasionally have issues; last year I passed out in my garden, luckily my family was home. The stroke has changed my activities and what I’m comfortable doing alone.”
Both women are sharing their story at CycleNation to raise awareness that stroke can happen to anyone.
“You have to advocate for yourself,” Candella-Weimer said.
“I want to also stress how important it is to go to the hospital if you are having symptoms,” Buckley said. “The nurses were so amazing. I’m so grateful to them for taking care of me when nobody could come see me. I didn’t know where my phone was, but they were responding to my husband, who relied on them for updates.”
Buckley lives in Whitesboro with her husband Nick and their two children, 6-year-old Noah and 4-year-old Haley.
Candella-Weimer and her husband Andy live in New Hartford with their three children, who are now 6, 7 and 9.
What’s next for them? When COVID is over, both women want to travel with their families again.