Sarah's Gift

Updated:Nov 23,2016
Sarah Abrusley headshotI am Sarah Abrusley, a 31-year-old stroke survivor and dancer from New Orleans. My experience triggered personal growth that causes me to view the hemorrhagic stroke that nearly killed me 16 months ago as a gift.

I was anxious about producing my first performance for Overture to the Cultural Season, scheduled for Sept. 8, 2007 at the New Orleans Museum of Art. I awoke at 4:30 a.m. the day before with a piercing headache behind my right eye. As I rose from my bed with my husband Damien sleeping beside me, I realized that something was terribly wrong. 

Just hours before in rehearsal, I was bringing to life images from Edgar Degas' ballet-inspired works of art, balancing effortlessly on the tiny tip of a pointe shoe. Now, I couldn't walk from my bed to the bathroom without holding onto every piece of furniture on my right side. As Damien saw me struggle to walk, I calmly told him "I just can't get my equilibrium."

I stumbled back to my bedroom to dress for the day, unaware that the left side of my body was already paralyzed. I didn't realize that my arm hadn't slipped through the left sleeve. When I told Damien that I was ready to leave for work, he looked shocked and scared. The next thing I knew, he swept me off my feet and carried me to the car.

At the emergency room, I was immediately rushed for a CAT scan. I overheard one of the techs say to the other "big bleed on the right." I calmly told Damien that I had had a stroke. 

Who would believe that a 29-year-old nonsmoking vegetarian ballerina who works out four hours each day could have a stroke? I was transferred to West Jefferson Medical Center, a primary stroke center and Get With The Guidelines performance achievement award recipient, for the rest of my treatment.

I have come a long way from the half-paralyzed girl who couldn't hold her head straight. Since the stroke, I have performed in acting and dancing roles and I have modeled a beautiful red gown in a fashion show at the New Orleans Go Red For Women luncheon.

If not for the stroke, I wouldn't have realized my inner strength, and my dancing talents would have continued to define who I was and my self-worth. It helped transform me into a hopeful, more faithful person.

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