By Teri Ackerson
I was in grade school when my teacher read a quote from President John F. Kennedy Jr.
“One person can make a difference, and everyone should try.”
My innocent 8-year-old spirit wondered if I could ever be that big. What difference could I make? I became a wife, a mother, a nurse. Those are big deals. I was impacting my family and the patients I cared for in the hospital. I then specialized in neurology, specifically stroke, and quality performance, my impact as a professional and a healthcare worker was beginning to grow.
On Memorial Day of 2013 while driving in the car with my son, I had a stroke of my own. I lost the feeling and the use of my left arm. I couldn’t feel the left side of my face, and my son couldn’t understand what I was trying to say ― my worst fear as a parent had become my reality ― I had lost the ability to protect and comfort the most important being in my world. He was saving my life. As I tried to convince my neuroscience nurse brain this wasn’t happening, I was also bartering with God to please let me tell my son “I love you,” just one more time.
My son looked at me and said, “Mom, you’re having a stroke.” I had to look into his eyes, and shake my head “Yes.”
Because of the American Heart Association and the $4 billion they have contributed to health research since 1949, I was only half a mile away from the nearest Primary Stroke Care Center. Because of that research, I was given a life-saving drug to restore the blood flow to my brain. I wasn’t one of the 133,000 Americans that die from stroke each year. I was a stroke survivor, who walked out of the hospital on my own two feet. I was a stroke survivor that ran a marathon 26 days after my stroke. You don’t have to read that sentence again. It’s true, I ran a marathon 26 days after my stroke.
Because of the tireless efforts of the AHA and the studies they fund that work to improve cardiovascular health on a global scale, a congenital heart defect was identified and fixed, having very little impact on my quality of life.
My life wasn’t just saved, the quality was preserved. Heart Disease is the No. 1 killer across the globe. I didn’t just survive. I thrived. In the pit of my stomach, I wanted to create positive change for healthier hearts in any way I could. I never wanted another mother to feel the way I felt the morning of my stroke. Nearly 400,000 women die of heart disease in this country each year. I threw myself into the launch of My Research Legacy to preserve and prolong health for current and future generations by collaborating with everyday people to drive research.
By using your data for good and sharing your personal health information in a secure platform – from filling out surveys to genetics to wearable device data to medical records to joining research studies ― we can learn from you and your personal experience to drive the next generation research together.
My Research Legacy will put you at the center of new scientific research, to improve the efficiencies and engagement of clinical trials by speeding up the recruitment process. As a patient-consumer you have the power to make positive change in those around you, and across the globe. In the last three-and-a-half years, I have traveled all over the country and Europe, speaking to anyone that will listen, using the voice that I almost lost.
Remembering the spirit of an 8-year-old little girl with a crooked smile and a message, “One person can make a difference, and everyone should try.”
Embrace your elementary-school self. I challenge you to accept the call to action of the Go Red for Women movement, play an active role in My Research Legacy. Make an impact. Leave your legacy. Be that big. Be the one.
This post is part of a series produced by The Huffington Post and the American Heart Association’s Go Red For Women in recognition of National Wear Red Day (Feb. 3, 2017). The aim is to raise awareness that heart disease isn’t just a man’s disease, and one in three women die of cardiovascular disease. Eighty percent of cardiac and stroke events can be prevented with education and lifestyle changes. To read all the stories in the series, visit http://www.huffingtonpost.com/news/heart-disease/. To follow the conversation on Twitter — and share a picture of yourself wearing red — find the hashtag #GoRedWearRed.