A slim 5’5” fitness instructor, Jessica Diaz, appears to be the poster child of healthy. She is a young, active mom of two who teaches multiple Barre classes at yoga and sports clubs throughout Boston. She devotes hours every day to taking care of her health while helping others take care of theirs through high-energy cardio, strengthening and stretching.
Thankfully, Jessica’s devotion to health and fitness means she knows her body well – and she listens to it. This past summer, Jessica had just finished up a Barre class and noticed her arm go weak while in the shower. It was followed by a shooting pain across her face and down the whole left side of her body. Concerned, she got out of the shower to tell her husband. Knowing how healthy his wife was, he dismissed the symptoms and suggested she take a nap to see if they would go away. But Jessica’s left leg then became very heavy and numb and she was overcome with a severe headache. Knowing something was off, she called her primary care doctor who advised her to go immediately to the ER.
Although physicians at the ER initially thought Jessica’s symptoms could be as simple as dehydration, they decided to be safe and ordered a CT scan which revealed Jessica had suffered a minor stroke. She was admitted to the neurology unit at Mass General Hospital where physicians would run more tests and determine whether or not she would need rehab to help retrain her left leg again.
Fortunately for Jessica, she woke up the next day with feeling in her left leg and few other symptoms than a little grogginess and fatigue. While she had no previously known medical issues, doctors discovered what they believed caused Jessica’s stroke as a PFO, or patent foramen ovale, a small hole in heart that had been undetected all her life and a blood condition called Factor 5 Ledion, making her more prone to clotting. Jessica’s team of physicians, have recommended she undergo surgery to close the hole in heart, which she will proceed with this spring and she is taking an asprin a day to regulate blood clotting.
While Jessica’s experience was considered to be a minor stroke, she knows her decision to get help that day played a major role in possibly saving her life. “Had I ignored my symptoms or tried to sleep them off with a nap, I may have never gone to the hospital,” said Jessica. “I may have never discovered that I suffered a minor stroke that day or that I was at risk of possibly suffering a more serious stroke due to a preexisting heart and blood condition. I know that listening to my body helped save my life.”
Jessica explained that while she initially kept her experience to herself, she soon realized how important it was to share her story to let others to know that heart disease and stroke can happen to anyone, even young, otherwise healthy individuals. She stressed how important it is not only for people to recognize the signs and symptoms of heart disease and stroke but also to do something about it.
“If something doesn’t feel right, it probably isn’t,” said Jessica. “Listen to your body, no matter how minor the symptoms may feel, speak up and get help. It could save your life.”
Jessica is now teaming up with the American Stroke Association to help raise awareness of cardiovascular disease and stroke – our No.1 and No.4 killers. She has encouraged the studios she teaches at to participate in National Wear Red Day on February 7th and will join dozens of other stroke survivors at the State House later this month to meet with legislators and discuss the importance of strengthening stroke systems of care throughout the state.