A voice for the American Heart Association, Rebecca Welsh reflects on recovery and gratitude.

Evietta and Rebecca Welsh

Two years ago, I could have died.

I was feeding my 3-month-old baby girl, and, when I stood up to join my 2- and 3-year-old and my husband for dinner, I started to faint. It felt like someone took a pen and drew a line down the middle of my tongue and woosh — just like that, I was paralyzed on the right side of my body. A blood clot traveled to my brain, and my life was forever changed. I had a stroke.

For that first year, someone else replaced me in life. Someone else bought Valentine’s cards for my sons’ preschool classes. Someone else washed my hair. Someone else cared for my babies when they were sick. Someone else cooked dinner every night. Someone else had to drive me. Someone else tucked my children into bed. Someone else did the job I loved. I had a bed alarm. I couldn’t stand on my own; someone else had to hold me. I couldn’t be left alone. I couldn’t brush my teeth. I couldn’t write. I couldn’t walk into a grocery store. I couldn’t talk to my husband about anything remotely complex — my soulmate went from being my husband to being my caretaker. I felt like I was floating all the time. I wasn’t part of important conversations anymore. I was like a child, yet I knew how it felt to be an adult. I couldn’t find my words, my solid ground. I couldn’t find me, and I didn’t know how much of me was even findable. Someone else was always replacing me.

I spent that first year of recovery focusing on what I couldn’t do and trying to get those things back, rehabbing for months trying to get back to me. My one goal, every day, with every task: replace someone else with me. 

Today, I drove to the store, in a car, by myself, and successfully bought the things my family needs. I took my kids to the doctor. I communicated with the doctor and made decisions about my kids’ health. I worked side by side with my team at The HALO Foundation, making choices about how we would find a way to bring hope and healing to homeless children who desperately need us. And tonight, I made my family dinner by myself. I sat at a table and ate with my family. I could get a fork from the plate to my mouth, I could hold a glass and drink my milk, I could hold my babies as long as I wanted — every cry, every laugh, every chance I got. I now jump and run to them when they need me. I get to be the one who gives them love. I breathe in the smell of their hair, touch their skin, hold their tiny hands, sing to them, rock them, nap with them, chase them silly, bathe them at night. I look at them and say, “I get to be your mama. I get to be your mama. I get to be your mama. Nobody else does.” I can have conversations about real things with my soulmate again. I can hold him. I can give him love in return. I can look in his eyes and find us again. I am the person he fell in love with. I get to be his wife, not just the person he cares for. I get to be his wife. Nobody else does. 

Eddie, Evietta, Klaebel, Chedon, and Rebecca Welsh

I am not replaced.

I am here, I scream from the rooftops to the world, I am here. 

Yes, there are things that will be forever changed about me, but fierce, defiant optimism is not one of them. I will no longer focus on what I can’t do, but what I can. I embrace and celebrate me today, just as I am. 

My stroke was caused by a 2-inch hole in my heart that I had my entire life. That hole was closed with open heart surgery. Without medical advances, like the lifesaving drug TPA and the heart and lung machine, I would not be here. This is why I am honored to be a voice for the American Heart Association.

Editor’s Note

City Magazine is a proud media sponsor of the American Heart Association in Jefferson City. For more information on the AHA, and to learn  how you can help, visit heart.org or Facebook.com/AmericanHeartAssociationMissouri. Also, learn more about Go Red for Women and Workout with Dr. Walker.