PORTLAND, Oregon, May 3, 2023 — Dani Lutzow had no idea she was on the brink of a life-altering event. She enjoyed her full-time job as a certified health coach, especially the satisfaction she found helping people achieve their personal health goals. To further her coaching career she had recently started attending grad school. Life felt pretty good.

Saturday, July 27, 2019 dawned cloudy and gray. Dani woke up and took her dog, Charlie, out to the front yard. She enjoyed the quiet morning as Charlie inspected the yard. Then she noticed something didn’t feel right. Unsure of what was happening, she sat down on the sidewalk.

“People passed me on the street, but I couldn’t reply to their greetings,” Dani said.

She had no idea she was having a stroke and the clock was ticking. According to the American Heart Association, stroke is the No. 5 cause of death and a leading cause of disability in the United States. If Dani didn’t receive medical attention soon, irreversible brain damage or worse could occur.   

Call it luck or call it serendipity, but at that moment her friend, Chris, found her sitting on the sidewalk. When Dani couldn’t answer him, Chris called 911 and then phoned her parents. When the EMTs arrived, they recognized the stroke symptoms and rushed Dani to the hospital.

“I couldn’t understand the questions the EMTs were asking me,” Dani said. “I remember getting into the ambulance even though I didn’t understand why I needed to go to the hospital.”

The next thing Dani remembers is waking up in the ICU. A couple of her friends were there with her and she thought she was going to leave soon. When the doctor came in, she couldn’t understand anything they said. That’s because she had suffered total aphasia, which may occur suddenly after a stroke or a head injury. Aphasia affects how you communicate. It can impact your speech, as well as the way you write and understand both spoken and written language.

Dani describes it as though she had suddenly become an infant again. “I would nod and smile when people talked but I had no idea what they were saying. I didn't know what was happening,” Dani said.

In addition to being stuck in her own little world with no way to communicate, Dani’s right side was completely paralyzed. This made simple tasks like eating almost impossible.

When Dani was released from the hospital, she went home and slept almost all the time. She required constant care, and the recovery process was painfully slow. Despite the difficulties, she discovered that there is life—and hope—after a stroke. With time, new routines became second nature. Rehabilitation helped build strength, capability and confidence.

Discussing her case with her neurosurgeon, Dani learned that the rapid medical attention saved her life. If she had arrived at the hospital 15 minutes later, she likely wouldn’t have survived the stroke.

As Dani recovered, she learned more about stroke care and stroke rehab from the American Heart Association. A stroke occurs when a blood vessel that carries oxygen and nutrients to the brain is either blocked by a clot or bursts (or ruptures). When that happens, part of the brain cannot get the blood (and oxygen) it needs, and brain cells die.

Yes, stroke is dangerous and deadly, but Dani discovered you can control and treat several risk factors for it. In fact, 80% of strokes are preventable. Controlling factors like high blood pressure, poor diet, physical inactivity, obesity, high blood cholesterol and smoking all help reduce the risk of stroke.

Dani’s recovery journey eventually brought her to a point where she could begin seeing clients again and resumed her studies. Initially it was hard, but gradually she was able to speak more and more clearly. Signs of the aphasia have mostly disappeared.

She only has a few more days of school left. In fact, she will march in her graduation ceremony June 3, right after the Portland Heart & Stroke Walk.  

The American Heart Association Heart & Stroke Walks take place May 20 at Esther Short Park in Vancouver, Washington, and June 3 at Tom McCall Waterfront Park in Portland, Oregon. The walks feature heart-healthy activities for participants of all ages. They are an opportunity to help fund more lifesaving research for people like Amy and so many others in Oregon and southwest Washington affected by heart disease and stroke. Register today at pdxheartwalk.org

Reflecting on life today, Dani knows each moment is a gift. “Every day that I'm alive I try to be grateful. I’m happy I'm here and that I'm alive. I'm doing so much better than I was after the stroke,” she said.

Because of her experience, Dani is passionate about helping others know the signs of stroke and what to do when it happens. She also has a special message for those who have recently experienced a stroke. “You can recover. You can do it! Life might look different, but it doesn't have to hold you back,” she said.


About the American Heart Association

The American Heart Association is devoted to saving people from heart disease and stroke – the two leading causes of death in the world. We team with millions of volunteers to fund innovative research, fight for stronger public health policies and provide lifesaving tools and information to prevent and treat these diseases. The Dallas-based association is the nation’s oldest and largest voluntary organization dedicated to fighting heart disease and stroke. To learn more or to get involved, call 1-800-AHA-USA1, visit heart.org or call any of our offices around the country. Follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

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Jay Wintermeyer