BY KAREN MARTIN
Special Sections editor
Like a lot of people, Tremesia Abbott did not know she was having a stroke. At age 34, even the idea of a stroke was nowhere on her radar.
She had had a few health issues in the past, most notably migraine headaches since the age of 5 and more recently carpel tunnel problems. She’d also suffered from excruciating muscle spasms.
But she had never been diagnosed with any cardiovascular issues.
Abbott was a very active mother of three, working full time at BlueCross BlueShield of Louisiana, attending classes as a full-time student at the University of Phoenix, heading up the parents club at Broadmoor High School and running the school’s girls basketball program.
In 2009, after a long day at work, Abbott says she went home exhausted. Tired beyond tired.
“I don’t remember going from my bedroom to the living room, but my son was in there on the sofa and I told him something was wrong. He said, ‘Momma, you’re talking funny,’” Abbott says, recalling she couldn’t move her right side.
Larry, nicknamed “Montiae,” wanted to call 911, but Abbott says she refused, thinking she would be all right.
“He got online and started looking at the symptoms,” Abbott says, adding that her then 13-year-old son called a friend and got her to the hospital.
She was only 34, and she had had a stroke. Five days later, while still in the hospital, Abbott had a second stroke.
“I was in therapy trying to walk. I suffered the second stroke while I was talking about the first one. The only thing I can remember is that I couldn’t talk, so I hummed, ‘I Can Do All Things Through Christ,’” she says.
Abbott says the doctors still don’t know what caused her strokes.
Stroke is a disease that affects the arteries within the brain and those leading to it. It is the No. 4 cause of death and a leading cause of disability in the U.S. A stroke occurs when a blood vessel that carries oxygen and nutrients to the brain is either blocked by a clot or bursts. When that happens, part of the brain cannot get the blood and oxygen it needs, so it and brain cells die, according to the American Heart Association.
“I didn’t have high cholesterol. My blood pressure was usually normal. I’m not diabetic. My parents didn’t have high blood pressure,” says Abbott, ticking off all the usual indicators of problems. “My grandmother had a stroke, but at 78.”
Abbott admits that since moving in 2002 to Baton Rouge from Shreveport, she hadn’t been as active and had gained weight. And the single mother also had been working hard and under a lot of stress.
But the strokes came out of nowhere, she says. Months of therapy followed, but Abbott says she never lost her conviction she would fully recover her speech and mobility on her right side.
She lost weight and began exercising, and today there’s little signs of the cardiovascular disease that is now part of her life.
But it hasn’t been all roses, Abbott says, noting she’s returned to the hospital a few times with chest pains. And she regained some of the weight she had lost.
Another trip to the hospital with what was thought to be a mini stroke was, Abbott says, the last straw.
She says she finally came to the realization that she needed a lifestyle change if she was going to be around for her children and her new grandchild.
“I thought, ‘Something’s got to give. I have to do what I can do on my end and let the doctors and the Lord handle the rest.’”
Since then she’s become nutrition conscious, eliminating salt and eating low-fat.
“I changed the way I shop. For example, I buy brown rice instead of white. I don’t use salt when I cook, and I go for things like grilled shrimp instead of fried.”
She’s no saint, Abbott says with a laugh, noting she still occasionally pops into Taco Bell, “but now I get a soft taco or a diet taco instead.”
She’s lost 54 pounds over the past year and works out regularly in the Blue Cross gym.
“I’ve cut back a lot,” says Abbott, speaking of both bad foods and her hectic schedule. “I know my limits now. If my body says stop, I do.”