Name: Deenette Woodward.
Hometown: Formerly of Honolulu, she now lives in Nooksack.
Family: One daughter and two grandchildren.
New confidence: When Woodward had a stroke two years ago, she was unsure if she would ever have the strength to play with her grandchildren, pick berries or join in a card game. She is almost entirely unable to move the left side of her body, but says her family boosts her confidence and keeps her from giving up on the hobbies she loves.
"Things are getting better for me," she says. "There are still things I can't do on my own, but my faith and my family have kept me going."
Ignored symptoms: On May 20, 2010, the day after her 62nd birthday, Woodward was alone in her home when she felt her arm go numb. She ignored the sensation, thinking she had slept on top of the arm the night before. When the numbness returned an hour later, and again the hour after that, she began to worry.
"I called my daughter to take me to the hospital," Woodward says. "When the doctors told me it was a stroke, I couldn't believe I waited so long to get help. It was scary because I knew it caused damage to my brain."
Hazardous signs: As a former caregiver for stroke patients, Woodward is familiar with the warning signs. She says it's common for people who are suffering from a stroke to brush the symptoms off as normal. That's a dangerous mistake, she says.
"I should have recognized the symptoms of my stroke right away," she says. "I worked most of my life with patients who had these symptoms and I saw the effect it had on their lives."
Healing relationships: The first months after the stroke were the most difficult for Woodward because she had to adjust to her new limitations. She started attending sessions at PeaceHealth Adult Day Health Center, the St. Joseph program for adults with disabilities and long-term illnesses. At the center she plays cards, listens to music and shares stories with other members, in addition to her physical therapy appointments.
"Because of my stroke I suffered from depression and wanted to stay home so I didn't have to socialize," she says. "I've really made progress here because I can get out and talk to other people."
Care at home: Woodward has a caregiver visit her home four times a week for a few hours to help with tasks that are now difficult for her, such as opening jars, cooking or running errands. Depending on other people wasn't easy for Woodward. She says she was stubborn her first few months of treatment and became frustrated when she wasn't reaching her physical therapy goals.
"I would look at other patients with varying degrees of disability and noticed that even the patients who were older than me were ambulatory, very quick and alert," she says. "I would sometimes get disheartened because they would put me to shame. I wasn't at their level."
Stronger motivation: "I decided to push myself," Woodward says. "My caregivers taught me to never say never and not give up hope."
After two years of therapy and only a few minor setbacks, Woodward says she is able to keep up with her peers mentally and physically during her therapy sessions. She says one-on-one care is important for recovery.
Teaches understanding: Woodward visits her granddaughter's elementary school to read to the students as part of her rehabilitation. At first, she was hesitant about how students would react to her wheelchair.
"I was surprised by how resilient these children are," she says. "They wanted to hold the door open for me and are very attentive. I'm so glad I get to spend time with my granddaughter like this."
Giving back: While having a stroke has changed Woodward's life dramatically, she says it happened for a reason. She now spends her free time writing to support groups online about her experiences and encouraging people to take stroke symptoms seriously the first time they notice them.
"A stroke isn't something you want to have," she says. "It's better to go to the doctor immediately if you have any of the symptoms."
Greater gratitude: Many people take seemingly simple actions for granted, Woodward says. Since having a stroke, she says she's thankful for everything she is able to do independently, and has a new perspective on what is most important in her life.
"I'm getting back my mojo," she says.
Marissa Abruzzini is a freelance writer in Bellingham.