Sharon Murff started her 58th birthday before dawn with a click in her head.
She didn’t feel any pain. Yet when she looked at herself in the mirror, the left side of her face looked distorted.
“I didn’t recognize myself,” she said. “I thought maybe I just slept weirdly and could shower.”
When the shower didn’t help, Murff – a retired artist from Chicago – put on a wig and hat to cover his face. There was nothing she could do, however, to mask the problems she was experiencing with her voice, a sensation she described as “like I had marbles in my mouth.” She was also unusually awkward, dropping things.
Her daughter, Aisha, spent the day with her. While Aisha noted a few quirks, she attributed it to her mother’s fatigue.
“She was out taking pictures all day and being his usual eccentric,” Aisha said.
Sharon took care of the birthday supporters. Between visits, however, she feared something was wrong. She tried to do the reading but couldn’t concentrate on the words. It scared him even more. She tried writing the alphabet in cursive and writing numbers.
She did not consider seeing a doctor. She hadn’t seen a doctor since Aisha gave birth 35 years earlier.
“I thought as long as I got my brain working, I could do it,” Sharon said.
Her sister Cheryl Murff arrived around 5:30 p.m. with a bottle of champagne to celebrate.
Cheryl knew what the drooping face, weak arm, and slurred speech meant. She called 911.
“I heard her say, ‘My sister has had a stroke and she’s not moving or speaking properly,'” Sharon recalls.
Sharon was a textbook case of the acronym FAST: sagging face, weakness in arms, difficulty speaking, time to call 911.
She spent 11 days in the hospital. She was diagnosed with high blood pressure, one of the main risk factors for stroke.
“I didn’t know I had high blood pressure,” Sharon said. “But now I know that number is more important than your weight and your bank account.”
Stroke is one of the leading causes of death and severe long-term disability for people in the United States. The risk varies by race and ethnicity. The risk of having and dying from a stroke is higher for blacks than for their white peers, according to the Federal Office of Minority Health.
Once home, Sharon was able to walk using a walker or a cane. Building strength and coordination took time.
The insurance covered outpatient therapy for six weeks. After that, she decided to approach him like children do, playing. Sharon went to a dollar store and bought some clay and pencils. She then added jacks, pickup sticks and marbles to work on her dexterity.
“I didn’t have any money for therapy, but I was like, ‘I have $ 1.’,” she said.
To soften her speech, she practiced reading children’s books aloud. “I’ll just try to do whatever I can to make my brain work.”
Today, a decade later and 68 years old, Sharon is still working on her mobility and relies on a large collection of canes – making sure to always coordinate them with her outfit.
Sharon has spent her career in entertainment, dance and theater in theatrical productions in Chicago as well as a few films and has directed her own magic show. She played Loretta Brown in the 1975 movie “Cooley High”, shot in Chicago.
“I remember the combinations, but my body doesn’t always do what my head wants it to do,” she said.
Before the pandemic, she swam and took a weekly ballet class, doing the movements while holding the bar for support. She now volunteers at her local library and takes classes to keep her mind and body active.
Sharon now understands the importance of following her medical care. She also urges others to know the signs of a stroke and to see a doctor if something doesn’t seem right.
“Don’t call a friend and don’t call your mom. Call 911,” she said. “I should have called 911 and let them know immediately. This time can save you.”
American Heart Association News covers heart and brain health. Any opinions expressed in this story do not reflect the official position of the American Heart Association. Copyright is owned or owned by the American Heart Association, Inc., and all rights are reserved. If you have any questions or comments about this story, please email [email protected]
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