By Liana Jacob
MEET the three mums who found a unique bond after all overcoming life-threatening strokes and now combine forces to help other survivors around the world.
In December 2012, sales director, Angie Jorgensen (52), from Nebraska, USA, went into cardiac arrest suddenly and only had a five percent chance of survival.
Her family even said their goodbyes to her while she was in a coma, her organs shut down and she was put on dialysis. She suffered a stroke which was caused by a rare tumour on the adrenal gland called pheochromocytoma.
After a week of being in a coma, Angie’s heart unexpectedly began functioning normally and she woke up a few days later; unable to walk, talk or use her hands.
“As the doctors went over what I had been through over the past week, my first thoughts were in thanking God that I could go to my daughter’s graduation and that this had to be some kind of miracle,” Angie said.
“I had a long road ahead in recovery. After cardiac rehab and wearing a defibrillator vest for three months to keep my blood pressure in check, I was able to have surgery to remove the tumour that had taken over my adrenal gland.
“Over the course of the year and one day at a time, I continued to recover. It has been a privilege to pay it forward with gratitude ever since.”
Freelance writer and fitness instructor, Tamsen Butler (44), from Nebraska, USA, suffered a stroke in 2015 unexpectedly due to a genetic mutation she didn’t know she had that caused her blood to clot.
As a result, she developed ‘scatterbrain’ tendencies that caused her to have temporary memory loss, which became easier to live with and recover from through the friendship she formed with Angie and Sarah, who also suffered a stroke in 2016.
“It was completely unexpected and was caused by holes in the heart I didn’t know I had and a genetic mutation that gives my blood a propensity to clot,” Tamsen said.
“Angie and I met at an American Heart Association advocate summit. Sarah reached out to me via Facebook after reading something I’d written online about my stroke, so we met for coffee.
“Angie and Sarah are both incredibly positive, which made me enjoy their company a lot. I saw glimpses of my own deficits in them – especially my scatterbrain tendencies.
“I felt some comfort in knowing that these beautiful, capable women managed to stay positive even though they deal with the same cognitive deficits I do. I felt as though I had found my clan.”
Stay-at-home mum, Sarah Conaway (37), from Nebraska, USA, was already in the emergency room with her then three-year-old daughter in 2016, when she suffered an ischemic stroke, which is when the arteries to the brain become narrowed or blocked, causing severely reduced blood flow.
She ended up having a haemorrhagic conversion three days later and spent five weeks in the inpatient ward re-habilitating activities of daily living.
Angie and Tamsen were the first to meet at an event hosted by the American Heart Association and they both were united with Sarah via Facebook. They now call themselves ‘Stromies’ (Stroke Homies).
“We felt as though God brought us together. All three of us wanted to be able to provide others with the support that we desired while recovering after our strokes,” Sarah said.
“I was stuttering pretty badly when we first got together and somewhat socially awkward. My communication is now fluid and I am much more outgoing and personable.
“It’s given me a sense of purpose. I am able to use a lot of my marketing and public relations background to facilitate social media for the Stromies and it makes me feel worthwhile.
“It has also opened us up to seeking more stroke survivors not only locally, but globally. They fill my heart like nothing else. There is an unspoken bond that we share. We just ‘get’ each other.
“If we get frustrated trying to do something we once could, we may text one another asking if they’ve ever felt the same way – and most often the answer is yes.
“When we get frustrated with something that we cannot do post stroke it’s comforting to know that we are not alone. We are all mothers and raising children as a stroke survivor is challenging.”
Tamsen describes what has meant for her to be united with Sarah and Angie.
“I know they’ve helped me recover because I was a lot more introverted post-stroke, but they drew me out of my shell,” she said.
“It’s a powerful thing to go from ‘stroke victim’ to ‘stroke survivor advocate’ and that’s what being a Stromie has helped me do.
“Sarah and I have both met with fellow survivors who live nearby, and I’ve made new friends both in-person and online.
“After my stroke, many of my ‘friends’ disappeared, so I was dubious of friendships in general. Sarah and Angie helped me trust in people again.
“This friendship is exactly what I needed; while the people close to me try hard to understand what it’s like living with brain damage, only fellow survivors can actually understand. It’s powerful to have them in my life and on my side.
“I’d say that being stroke survivors and mums is super difficult, so to have someone who I can talk to about the challenges of raising kids while not having full cognitive abilities makes life a lot more bearable.”
Angie explains that it felt comfortable meeting with women who have been through a similar ordeal as her.
“For me it was pure joy. I met two other women with similar but different health obstacles. We had an instant connection,” she said.
“We knew right away that we could take our stories and use them to inspire and educate with regard to stroke prevention and awareness.
“Each of us has some lasting things to deal with, especially regarding memory issues. I have had the longest time to recover of the three of us.
“There are times when my mind feels very overwhelmed. Teaming up with Tamsen and Sarah has honestly added a great strength to my journey. We each have very supportive families.
“But the three of us have an understanding because of what we have gone through and that is a pretty special thing. It helps us on a tough day and we can certainly find the humour in it which is also a good thing.
“We are each able to use our strengths and differing personalities in a pretty cool way. Our connection has evolved and strengthened over time.
“The time we spent together is very personally rewarding. But even more so, hearing how we may have positively impacted someone else is what we’ve hoped to do.
“They are my girls. I have their back and I know they have mine. We are continually excited and inspired by all the different opportunities we have had together in trying to make a positive difference for stroke survivors and in creating hope and awareness.”