Meet Kathleen Thomas, an ultra competitive 50 year old Ironman triathalete and successful Financial Advisor who has made a complete recovery from a stroke  back in August 2008. Before her stroke, she admitedly was not conscious of her diet and how it played into her health. In fact, in looking back she can very clearly see that her stroke was a direct result of not taking proper care of herself, in terms of her nutrition.  stress, takeout food and frankly thinking I was living a pretty healthy and active life- I ran and worked out a lot, and thought that was enough as I was healthier than most people I knew. Here is her Story:

I Suffered a stroke during the Timberman Half Ironman in August 2008. The distance of the race is 70.3 miles (1.2 mile swim, 56 mile bike ride, 13.1mile run).  I disected an artery in my neck- Doctor believes this was during the swim.  I remember coming out of the water feeling a little “weird” light headed- this was my first triathlon, and what I had read said that you might feel a little dizzy coming out of the water- so I blew it off and got on my bike. The bike course is very hilly, and for the 1st 20 miles I was just riding trying to find my groove-at mile 20 or so, I got this terrible rush of pain over my whole head- it felt like swoosh as it washed over me- it left a bad headache- I remember wondering what the * x*;! was that?
My bike shook some and then it straightened out, so I continued to ride- talking to myself- maybe heat stroke, maybe migraine(I had migraines every so often)   I decided I was just going to slow down a little and drink more-  it was a hot day and I was already dehydrated and did not realize it.
The problem with strokes is that the effects often get worse as your brain swells from the injury, and with damage to the cerebellum (small brain), and vision center, my symptoms didn’t make sense and I had no family history of stroke to speak of.  I am a competitive woman and more than a little driven- I didn’t consider quitting until hours later.  They say that the side of your brain that is not injured sort of takes over- for me that is the analytic side. I simply dismissed it.  While on the ride, I remember barreling down this steep hill, passing other riders like “picket fences” and thinking “good,  I am picking off a few of these guys and making up some time. “  Typically, I am a safety first kind of rider and that is not a thought I would normally have.  I now know I easily could have gone off the course and crashed into the rocks , but as I said, that day, I never thought it.
My legs felt like tree trunks though- my ride was slower than I was capable of- I have a MPH meter on my bike- every time I looked at it, I was going the right pace, but there must have been long spans of time when I didn’t look and was far off my pace- I do remember stopping to swap out my bottles and the guy at the water stop asking if I was ok- I said yes- hopped on my bike and rode off-
Stroke can be detected sometimes by paralysis ? on your face.  But there are no mirrors in triathlon. At the bike/run transistion- my legs and arms ached- apparently, when you have a brain injury, your body rushes blood there and away from your extremities, trying to save you. I took 3 advil and a gu (gel) threw on my running shoes and left- the run is a half marathon 13.1 miles. I basically headed out for the run with a plan to walk/run til the advil kicked in and then run the rest- temps at this point were mid 80’s. I never could find a pace I could maintain, but in endurance sports, you just keep moving forward.  4 miles into the run course, I remember thinking I had never felt this bad in my whole life, and I contemplated quitting- then I looked around and thought “Suck it up KT, everyone out here is struggling..just get it done”.
2 miles later, I collapsed at the turn around.  I could feel my legs just give way. The next thing I remember was waking up, throwing up , and passing out- something  I repeated for the next 3 days. People were yelling to elevate my legs, put cold water on her, etc.  My friend , Ben, saw me fall and ran over.  I remember looking up at him.  The sun was shining behind him, and he was all blurry, then  I threw up again, and the next time I came to, I was in the medical tent. The medics assumed dehydration and gave me fluids.  2 bags later, the ambulance took me to the hospital-  Turns out I had 3 strokes all very close together in time. Things were just floating around in my vision, and then Id get dizzy and throw up again- I was not able to stand on my own, and had no balance. After 3 days of anti nashua drugs, I stopped throwing up and my kidneys began to operate like they should.
I left the hospital after 5 days.  I went from being Iron man strong to sleeping 15 hrs a day overnight. Besides my total loss of strength was shocking to me.  I live in a townhouse and couldn’t keep my balance going up and down the stairs or walk 2 blocks without sitting down. Over the 1st 6 weeks, I was just trying to get through the day- I am self employed, and my occupation can be stressful- I was trying to get the rest I needed and keep the business alive, when the economy and the stock market collapsed in the fall of 2008.
My eyes were damaged in the stroke, in that they no longer correlate ?- apparently, your eyes are run independent by the brain and only work together because they choose too- mine don’t always do that anymore-  when I am tired, things are blurry, and as my vision suffered, other things happened.  I would get car sick when it rained when I was driving from the motion of the windshield wipers, and couldn’t drive at night and sometimes still cannot. If I am tired, the instrument panel on my car is too blurry to see. I also have a slight vision issue on the right side.
I had problems walking due to the lack of balance and was continually falling and bumping into things.  My right side of my body is slightly slower than the left side, which caused all kind of fun injuries as I tried to get back to my active lifestyle.  The worst  of all, was the total lack of strength.  I would leave rehab and come home and cry, take a nap and then go to work. I made major changes after the stroke to include bringing more staff into the practice so that I could take more time to rest, and started thinking about my food sources as food that made me stronger and food that took away strength from me. It began with just choosing more healthy choices more often.  This includes a lot more fruit and veggies, and less processed food.  I started to focus on food in its most natural state more often.
I have believed for a long time that the American Diet is bad for us, and that there was so much cancer that it probably is the food supply.  My happy, hard eating family would just roll their eyes at me. Over the last few years, I started buying organic meats, and realized that it was not only better for you, but tasted better too- it did cost more, but eating out is really expensive, so I just ate home with better food more often.  This crossed over to organic fruits and veggies too-  I love to visit local farms during the season and buy what I need for 3 days, and it gives me an excuse to go back later in the week. Today, I am all about the whole food- I am not a vegetarian, but am a mostly no meat kind of girl- simply, I feel better when I do.  When I eat processed foods, I find I get gas and have low energy.  I never go anywhere without a piece of fruit or carrots with me.  I eat a lot of non-fat greek yogurt for protein. Last summer, after 4 years, I competed in the Louisville Iron man.  I was amazed just to survive “the summer of iron man” and get there to toe the line.  These days , I am happy to be alive and healthy.  I am training for Lake Placid Ironman these days-  Although, Im not the girl I was before the stroke, I am a much healthier person than I ever was. For me, food is fuel. The cleaner, the healthier, the better!
I have a lot to live for, and realized that laying in the hospital, that people might be sad if I had died, but they would get past it, my family and I , wouldn’t.  I needed to decide that taking care of my health had to be a priority, and not just hitting the gym, but nurturing my body and soul. About 2 years after the stroke, my nuerologist completed a new scan to look at my brain and found a small new artery attaching itself above and below where the damage in my artery is.  He said he’d never seen that before- he attributes it to my healthy cardio driven lifestyle.  The brain is an amazing organ.  In rehab, they kept saying that my brain would learn new ways to do what it used to, and to just keep trying.  I was so slow and exhausted, but just kept pushing- I wanted to be back. The fatigue stayed with me for more than 2 years, but when my diet got cleaner, my fatigue started to pass.
My current Ironman training is about 14 hours a week and will increase- at this point, its about being consistent.  I still need at least 8 hours sleep a night- 9 is better- When I get too tired, my balance starts going the other way, and I end up home and in bed.  I no longer can tolerate pushing too many agendas in any given day-  I have learned that if I really want something, there are other things, like reality TV, I have to give up-  I cant burn the candle at both ends anymore- Ive been living like this for the last few years, and now I know that I wouldn’t want to live any other way-
One of my favorite things is fresh fruit-  I buy my organic fruit-come home and wash it all and leave what I am going to eat in the next 3 days in a big bowl on my kitchen counter- fruit should be eaten at room temperature, and frankly, it just tastes yummy.  It doesn’t feel like I am giving up anything- if I really want something, I have it, but I have found that I have come to crave the things that makes my body feel strong.