Recognizing the Signs...Even When They're Not Divine

Updated:Oct 22,2015

Nicki James IMG_0428Nicki James received a sign while sitting in church. It wasn’t divine, but it changed her life.

Nicki suddenly slumped into a man sitting next to her in the pew. She tried to lean the other way, but she couldn’t. She couldn’t focus. Her fiancée, John Petrelli, tried to take her outside for some air.

Before they could leave the church, Nicki, 27, collapsed.

John thought she was having a stroke. He recognized the symptoms because his grandfather had suffered a stroke. He called 9-1-1.

Nicki couldn’t talk. “John recognized the paralysis on one side of my face and he saw me struggling to speak and maintain my balance,” she said. “He made sure I got to the hospital quickly.”

Nicki was rushed to the emergency room at The Methodist Hospital in Houston, where medical professionals treated her according to Get With The Guidelines, the American Heart Association’s quality improvement program that helps healthcare providers treat heart and stroke patients according to the most up-to-date guidelines.

Tests showed that Nicki had a congenital heart defect, a small hole that caused a clot in her heart to break free and flow up to her brain. “Although it was a frightening experience, the stroke was a sign that something was seriously wrong.”

After surgery to fix her heart defect, Nicki fully recovered. “I didn’t know I was even old enough to have a stroke,” Nicki said. “I always thought I was in pretty good shape.” 

Today Nicki runs about three miles a day. She also participates in running events in the Houston area to raise money and awareness to help stop stroke, the No. 5 killer of Americans.

A year and a half after her stroke, in November 2008, Nicki and John were married.