Survivor – It’s one word, but it takes on so much meaning when talking about 48-year-old LaShelle Bilal.
Stroke – she survived it.
Gangrene – she survived it.
Aphasia (unable to speak) – she survived it.
Unable to walk – survived it.
Epilepsy – surviving it.
Bilal was an active 12-year-old girl when her world changed. She came home from basketball practice one evening with a headache that was unlike anything she had experienced before. She eventually fainted in the family kitchen before being rushed to the hospital where doctors told her mother that her daughter had suffered a hemorrhagic stroke.
Bilal needed surgery to remove one-fourth of her skull, but complications from that surgery resulted in a bout with gangrene and two weeks in a coma.
“One day I was an active 12-year-old, and then I woke up from a coma and I couldn’t talk or walk,” Bilal says.
Her survivor instinct kicked in immediately as she pushed herself to use a wheelchair, then a walker and then to walk again. She also relearned how to speak.
Bilal’s battle didn’t end there though. During her recovery she started experiencing seizures and was diagnosed with epilepsy, a common condition of stroke survivors.
“I’m a survivor, and I want to communicate with others that having a stroke doesn’t have to be the end of your life,” Bilal says. “I want to raise awareness to as many people as I can to live a healthy life and not suffer from anything that can be prevented.”
The American Heart Association has given Bilal a platform to do that as part of the Go Red for Women “Woman of Impact” program. Bilal and four other local women are using their networks to educate others about heart disease and stroke.
“Our bodies are our temples,” Bilal says. “This role has made me more aware of my decisions of living healthier, and I want to be an example for the people I come in contact with.”
While not all strokes are preventable, the majority are by focusing on healthy choices such as eating right, moving more, not smoking and managing blood pressure – a leading risk factor for stroke.
According to the American Heart Association, the best way to spot symptoms of a stroke are to remember the acronym F.A.S.T.
F = Face drooping (one side of the face droops)
A = Arm weakness (weakness on one side of the body)
S = Slurred speech (difficulty speaking or speaking incoherently)
T = Time to call 9-1-1 (Stroke is a medical emergency but it can be treated if care is provided within a narrow timeframe)
Last month, Bilal showed the world just how far she has come, walking in a fashion show as part of the AHA’s Go Red for Women luncheon. She and the other “Women of Impact” nominees strutted their stuff to inspire others that they, too, can survive what life throws at them.
The Recorder is profiling all five “Women of Impact.” You can learn more about the program at www.heart.org/IndyGoesRed.
Rupal Thanawala is managing director at Trident Systems, a leading business and technology consulting practice, and tech editor for Indianapolis Recorder. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.