To kick off American Heart Month and inspire women to ‘Reclaim Your Rhythm,’ the American Heart Association today announced 12 heart disease and stroke survivors who are sharing their stories as part of the Association’s Go Red for Women movement.
Jayme Kelly, a Needham, Mass., resident who had a stroke in 2019, when she was 29, was selected from more than 100 applicants around the U.S. to join the 2022 class of “Real Women.”
Every year, the Association chooses a group of women, affectionally called, “The Real Women,” to help people to personally identify with the cause. The women, who come from all walks of life, serve as year-long national volunteer ambassadors for the initiative.
Jayme, 31, wants to show the world how she has reclaimed her rhythm and taken back control of her health after life threatening cardiovascular disease affected her. By speaking out, she hopes to inspire other women to do the same.
Helping people has always appealed to Jayme, and after being in the hospital for several knee surgeries when she was younger, she decided that she wanted to be a nurse one day.
“The doctors were great, but they come and see you and then they leave,” Jayme said. “I wanted to follow my patients.”
She did just that at Boston Children’s Hospital, working closely and connecting emotionally with children who have complex medical histories.
“It was my life,” said Jayme, who considers nursing her calling.
But her life was rudely interrupted when she woke up one morning two years ago unable to move her right arm or leg. She assumed she had slept on them wrong. But she fell several times when she tried to get up and move around. Scheduled for a shift at the hospital, she tried to call but failed to correctly enter the password on her phone so many times it locked her out.
When her roommate found her a few hours later, Jayme could only mumble unintelligibly. So her roommate called 911.
“I was freaking out,” Jayme said.
By the time her family arrived at the hospital, Jayme was already in the magnetic resonance imaging machine. As a nurse, she knew the signs and symptoms of stroke. But since she had no known risk factors, it never occurred to her that she was having one.
Later, Jayme learned she had factor V Leiden, a blood clotting disorder. She was also on birth control, which further increases the risk of clotting in people with the condition. Two of her sisters later tested positive for the disorder and took blood thinners during their pregnancies.
Jayme’s stroke resulted in weakness on the right side of her body and numbness in her right hand, making it hard for her to make a fist. She also had difficulty speaking, writing and comprehending language.
Jayme quickly made strides in her physical recovery through therapy, working out and jogging nearly every day. But it took six months before she could speak in full sentences again.
Soon, it became clear that she wouldn’t be able to return to nursing in the foreseeable future.
“I don’t feel disabled, but I am disabled,” she said. “I don’t know if I’m ever going to get there. It’s hard.”
Initially, Jayme struggled to talk about her stroke. But her speech therapist convinced her to seek psychotherapy.
“It was the worst day of my life, but the more I talked about it, the better I felt,” she said. “You need to get sad and angry about it.”
Recently, her speech therapist connected her with a woman looking for somebody to work with her daughter, who has cerebral palsy. Jayme now does speech, occupational and physical therapy with her every day after school.
“The stars kind of matched up,” Jayme said. “I love her so much.”
She has also shared her story publicly at the Boston Go Red for Women Luncheon and is a local American Heart Association stroke ambassador. She wants women to put themselves first, understand that stroke can happen to anybody and to recognize and respond to the F.A.S.T. stroke warning signs: Face drooping. Arm weakness. Speech difficulty. Time to call 911 immediately.
“I became a nurse to help people, and that’s why I like speaking up,” she said. “I’m not back to where I was before my stroke, but I’m getting better every day.”
For media inquiries, please email Chris Camire, director of communications, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The 2022 Real Women are:
- Amy Cavaliere, 40, Philadelphia, had a sudden cardiac arrest in the ambulance after having a heart attack at home. The EMT performed CPR for 45 mins and she now trains others in CPR.
- Andrea Engfer, 35, Orting, Washington, had just given birth to her daughter when she had a stroke. She missed her first Mother’s Day as she was in the hospital recovering.
- Claudia Norman, 53, Hartford, Connecticut, was diagnosed with a congenital heart defect (CHD) at the age of 51. She underwent open heart surgery in a pediatric hospital.
- Dianne Ruiz, 34, Burbank, California, was born with pulmonary stenosis, a congenital heart defect (CHD). After losing her job from the pandemic, and seeing how that had put stress on her body, she made a conscious effort to get her health back in check to make sure she leads a long and thriving life.
- Erica Annise, 50, Dallas, lived with heart disease for a decade before she admitted to herself, she was indeed a survivor. A subsequent stroke prompted her to learn more about her family history and she is now a fierce advocate for heart health in the Black community.
- Jayme Kelly, 31, Boston, woke up one morning and couldn’t walk – she had a stroke while sleeping. Through extensive therapy, she is well on the road to physical and mental recovery.
- Jenylyn Carpio, 38, Temecula, California, had a sudden cardiac arrest two weeks after giving birth. Her mother performed hands-only CPR until help arrived and she got to a hospital for treatment.
- Megan Hilt, 28, Birmingham, Alabama, experienced heart failure at 18. On her 19th birthday she had a heart transplant. Nearly a decade later, life is as ‘normal’ as life can be.
- Shemeka Campbell, 34, Milwaukee, was diagnosed with Supraventricular Tachycardia (SVT), a heart rhythm disorder almost 10 years ago. After losing her sister to heart related complications, she was diagnosed with congestive heart failure requiring an implantable cardioverter defibrillator in 2018, which has already saved her life.
- Tricia Marciel, 49, Honolulu, was treated for myocarditis and recovered. Nine months later, she was about to perform on stage as a singer when the symptoms returned – she was having a heart attack.
- Wakisha (Kisha) Stewart, 41, Cape Coral, Florida, was out for the first time with her husband two weeks after having her second child. Not feeling well, she went to the hospital. Initially told she was having a panic attack, a tear in her artery had actually caused a ‘widow maker’ heart attack.
- Zuleyma Santos, 37, Los Angeles, had peripartum cardiomyopathy, or postpartum heart failure, shortly after giving birth. In need of a heart transplant, she now lives with a battery pack that keeps her heart pumping until a donor heart is available.
Go Red for Women, nationally sponsored by CVS Health, is the American Heart Association’s signature women’s initiative to reduce heart disease and stroke in women. Through the Go Red for Women, the American Heart Association is working in communities around the world to help decrease the incidences of cardiovascular disease in women.
Learn more about Go Red for Women the 2022 Real Women at goredforwomen.org/realwomen.