A stroke weakened her mind, not her will
Think about the number 764.
Can you recall it in reverse order?
Four months after surviving a stroke, Beverly Paige couldn’t. And she wasn’t about to tolerate that.
Beverly was 52 and a proactive problem-solver. This is a woman who cut her teeth as a publicist by working for Miles Davis. She was the publicist of the landmark “Victory” tour for Michael Jackson and his family, and later worked with Luther Vandross, and alongside Russell Simmons and Jay-Z at Def Jam Records. She’d left the music industry to start a small PR firm. But now she was a stroke survivor trying to rebuild her mind and body.
So she came up with a plan. About three decades removed from college, she headed back to campus for some mind-sharpening English classes.
“I had to get my act together again,” she said. In June 2007, riding through New York City to a nephew’s birthday party, Beverly felt her right foot fall asleep. Then she stumbled getting out of the car. And when she tried speaking, words didn’t come out. A blood vessel in the left side of Beverly’s brain had burst. It’s called a hemorrhagic stroke and it’s often fatal. At the hospital, her prognosis was grim. A doctor told Beverly’s mother and sisters, “There’s nothing else we can do.”
She awoke four days later, hardly able to speak and temporarily paralyzed on her right side.
When she began physical therapy, her right arm had to be taped to the chair so it wouldn’t into the spokes. She learned to stand, then to walk. She could go to the bathroom alone, take a shower and comb her hair. After 15 weeks of rehab, she went home.
“They got me to a place where I could be independent,” Beverly said. “The rest was up to me.”
While hospitalized, Beverly tried working out her mental muscles by repeating things she wanted to retain, such as the date of her wedding anniversary and the birth weights of her two daughters.
Months later, she found out the hard way that there was a disconnect between what she thought and what she said. It happened at the grocery store, when she asked where to find the milk and she was sent to the deli.
“I thought I said `milk,’ but I said ‘meat,’” Beverly said. “I would see milk in my head – the container, the department I have to go to – and I would search for the word. I wouldn’t always find the right one.”
A neuropsychology report helped her realize how far she still had to go. This was the test that featured the challenge of remembering a three-digit number in reverse; she also failed to recall a five-digit number in order. That left her in the ninth percentile for her age.
Beverly figured a few English classes at Rockland Community College would jump start her brain. But it wasn’t as simple as signing up for English 101. She needed a degree plan. So, she majored in liberal arts – and wound up getting an associate’s degree. With honors. She’s now taking classes at Purchase College, working toward a bachelor’s degree in legal studies.
Beverly also has gotten an education about stroke.
She’s learned that stroke is the No. 4 killer of Americans, a leading cause of disability and that African-Americans are especially at risk. She also knows the warning signs, and how many she dismissed – the occasional flashes of light that she blamed on her contact lenses, a fall down the stairs of her home that she chalked up as just one of those things, and the frequent morning headaches that she “treated” by working out and eating a banana.
“Plus, I had a family history,” Beverly said. “My mother and sisters have high blood pressure and my father died of a stroke. He was 84, but he was in excellent health.”
Her mistakes are part of the story Beverly tells as a volunteer for the American Heart Association and American Stroke Association. She also encourages people to take charge of their recovery, like she did. (Watch Beverly tell her story.)
“If you want to come back as far as you can, you have to work on that,” said Beverly, who has tapped into the experience and connections from her PR career to help promote her local Heart Walk and Go Red For Women.
Her recovery isn’t complete.
She has a sensory delay in her right side, so she doesn’t always realize when she’s holding something hot or cold. She also can’t fully control her right foot, making it tough to drive– and impossible to wear high heels.
“Before the stroke, I was either in high heels or in sneakers at the gym,” she said. “Every time I see a woman in heels, I think about it.”
Doctors haven’t said when or if she will be able to wear them.
But she isn’t giving up. She looks forward to one day strutting into a Go Red For Women party.
Donate today to help people like Beverly or become an advocate with You're The Cure. You can also get involved with one of our many causes, like Go Red For Women, Heart Walk or Power To End Stroke, take a CPR class or volunteer in your local community!