Survivor shares her story as warning to others for National Stroke Awareness Month

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MORELAND HILLS, Ohio (WJW) – Watching her kids play in the backyard Niki Schaefer said she’s lucky to be living.

“I have never felt luckier about anything in my whole life.”

Lucky, considering one year earlier, Schaefer suffered a stroke, just shy of her 39th birthday. 

“I had just walked into the bar and all of a sudden this whoosh came over my whole body. And I felt really dizzy and just completely off balance and when I went to tell the people that I was with that I wasn’t feeling well, I couldn’t get the words out,” she said.

Schaefer called it one of the scarier moments of her life. After sitting down, she said she felt slightly better and decided to drive home from Cleveland alone, even stopping to get take out.

“I just wanted to get home as quickly as possible. And I made the mistake of thinking it was a good idea to drive and I got in my car,” she said.

Convinced she was experiencing vertigo, Schaefer, a lawyer, went to sleep late and got up early in preparation for a meeting, but still did not feel well. She said she ultimately saw an ear, nose and throat doctor the next day with the hopes of getting medication for vertigo.

“Within 30 seconds of seeing him, he realized that something horrible had happened. I was with my mother there and he said I had to get to the emergency room immediately. He was so forceful about it that I actually started to cry,” Schaefer said.

She said a CT scan revealed she suffered a stroke and was later told she did not need surgery. Recovery would ultimately require months of numerous types of therapy.

“They saw the stoke was in two places in my cerebellum in the right side of my brain,” she said.

Schaefer said she is sharing her story during National Stroke Awareness Month to make sure others do not delay seeking medical care and know the signs of a stroke using the acronym BE FAST.

“BE FAST is balance, eyes, face, arms, speech and then time to call 911.”

The American Stroke Association, a division of the American Heart Association, said one in four heart attack and stroke survivors will have another, but 80 percent of strokes and heart attacks could be prevented by using medication, like aspirin, along with practicing healthy habits. 

Schaefer said she is still not sure what led to her stroke. On her self described “strokiversery,” she put on the same jacket she was wearing when she was released from the hospital and went for a long run to mark her journey to better health.

“What I want people to know is to not be me and to BE FAST. I waited too long to go to the hospital and I’m really lucky that I’m sitting here today,” Schaefer said.

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