Know your numbers.
That's the message for women from Alyson McCord, who had to learn the hard way.
The 45-year-old Baton Rouge mother found out about the importance of blood pressure and cholesterol numbers after suffering not one but six mini-strokes in January 2016, and, eight months later, a major stroke.
But McCord was lucky. She survived. Strokes and heart disease cause one in three deaths among women each year — more than all cancers combined, according to the American Heart Association.
McCord survived, but it wasn't easy.
"I was in a coma for three days," says McCord, an attorney with the Louisiana Department of Children & Family Services Appeals Unit. "When I came to, I couldn't talk and my entire right side was paralyzed."
She had been battling high blood pressure for a while; her doctor unable to get it under control. At one point, it climbed to 180 (systolic) over 111 (diastolic). Normal blood pressure is below 120 systolic over below 80 diastolic. She had the first two mini-strokes at home.
"The first one caught me completely off guard," says McCord. "The second one I couldn't recover from, so my 5-year-old daughter, Aria Joy, called her grandmother."
In the hospital, she had four more mini-strokes. She was sent to Tulane Medical Center in New Orleans and recovered completely.
In September 2016, she was visiting in New Orleans when she passed out. A nurse, who happened to be nearby, recognized the signs of a stroke and came to her aid.
"I was trying to tell them my mom's phone number, but it was just jibberish," recalls McCord, who has a history of hypertension on both her mother's and father's sides of her family. "The Tulane doctors wanted to send me to a nursing home, but my mom fought for me to get sent to a rehab facility."
While her mom wanted rehab, McCord says she was ready to throw in the towel until she met her therapist at the NeuroMedical Center in Baton Rouge.
"She talked to me, brought me a picture of my baby to encourage me. I couldn't have done it without her," says McCord, who'll be among the survivors celebrating at the AHA's Go Red for Women Luncheon on Feb. 23 at the Raising Cane's River Center. "Talking was so hard. I'm right-handed and writing was very difficult so I started to use my left hand … The Tulane doctors told me to pick a new profession, but I said, 'No, I'm an attorney!' I had to fight to be myself."
Six months after completing therapy, McCord called her supervisor, Doris Weston, at DCFS about coming back to work.
"I told her I could do the work, I just didn't speak well. She believed in me and was the first to do that. It was an important first step — a most important step," says McCord, who is back full time at DCFS.
In addition to Weston, McCord says the support of her daughter and her mom, Joyce Wright, are what helped her recover.
A fourth step in keeping her healthy was changing doctors. She now sees Dr. Katherine Pearce.
"She was the cure for me. She got my blood pressure under control," says McCord. "And, for the first time, I discovered I had high cholesterol. I've made significant improvement under her care."
That improvement caught the attention of the American Heart Association, which contacted McCord. After an interview on a Friday via Skype, they called her back on Monday and asked her to be in New York City three days later to film a public service announcement.
"It was a whirlwind experience," she says of filming a public service announcement about her experience. "I talk about my strokes and tell my experience and the importance of the numbers."
What other advice does she have?
"Advocate for your own health. If you have to choose another healthcare provider, even if the one you have is a friend, do it," McCord says. "It's the only to make sure you live."
Go Red for Women Luncheon
An American Heart Association fundraiser to fight heart disease and stroke in women
WHEN: 10 a.m. Friday, Feb. 23
WHERE: Raising Cane's River Center, 275 S. River Road
TICKETS/INFO: $100, ahabatonrouge.ejoinme.org