Cheryl MacKenzie had two small strokes by the time she was 37. The first time she temporarily lost the use of her right side. Doctors told her she was experiencing effects of a migraine.
After the second, she left the hospital with a bit of memory loss and weakness on her left side, but with no clear understanding of what had happened or why. Eventually a neurologist referred by her family doctor confirmed that she had experienced a small stroke.
Fast forward 11 years. Cheryl woke up with a sore shoulder; she had trouble putting on her blazer but went to work anyway. She felt worse the next day and later that night collapsed in the bathroom of the home she shared with her parents. Her father called 911.
It was a heart attack. Doctors inserted two stents to open up blocked blood vessels and told Cheryl she’d be dead if she had been living alone.
The heart attack left Cheryl with 30% damage to her heart muscle. She developed atrial fibrillation, a type of irregular heart rhythm that increases the risk of stroke, and has recently been diagnosed with sleep apnea. Today at age 54, she takes 10 pills a day to control her conditions.
Looking back, Cheryl notes that early in her journey she felt lost in the system, not understanding what had happened to her or where to turn.
Women need to be strong. If you get dismissed, you need to go back.
She credits her family doctor, now retired, for stepping in after her second stroke. He helped her navigate the complexities of the healthcare system, connecting her with a neurologist, cardiologist and other specialists, and following up to make sure her risks were well managed.
Women as advocates
“If it wasn’t for him I don’t think I would have been able to get the appointments and care I needed,” she says. “I feel I’m well taken care of now. My new cardiologist is keeping close watch on my other symptoms.”
Cheryl wants to help other women advocate for their own health. “Women need to be strong. If you get dismissed, you need to go back to the hospital or back to the doctor. If you have a family history, get checked and if you have an event, go to rehabilitation.”
Learn more about risks and signs in women.