Life is Why
onna Garlough lifted her 18-month-old son,
Jonah, from his crib and kissed his belly. He
babbled his morning greeting. But Donna
couldn’t babble back.
Things were off that morning in February
2015. Donna had blamed the splitting headache she woke
up with on the white wine she’d sipped the night before.
As she tried to cut fruit for Jonah and his 4-year-old
sister, Sarah, the strawberries kept slipping out of her
hand. Maybe she’d slept funny, she thought.
Then, she couldn’t talk. “It was an extremely alien
experience,” said Donna, a style director, home-design
blogger and author who’s now 37. “When I opened my
mouth, nothing came out. It was like I was pushing the
TV remote and nothing was coming on.”
Donna thought of her neighbor, Jessica Diaz, who’d
recently had a stroke. A voice inside her head telling her
to listen to her body got louder, but it didn’t put a stop to
her busy morning routine.
In the shower, she lost feeling in her left hand. It felt
like it was made of thick, dense rubber, she recalled.
“That’s what forced me to say, ‘This is real, this is
Still, Donna gave herself another test. Wrapped in her
bath towel, she smiled in the mirror. But only the right
side of her mouth moved.
She thought, “But I’m only 35.”
Her thoughts went back to Jessica. Donna knew about
stroke in theory — lists and pictures of warning signs —
Her next thought: the kids. She didn’t want them to
see what was going on.
“This is how convoluted the motherly mind can be,”
said Donna, who lives in Boston with her husband, Dave.
“You’re having a stroke, but you still want to get the kids
For his part, Dave sprang into action, yet he didn’t
believe it was a medical emergency.
“In my mind, healthy 35-year-old women just don’t
have strokes, so it just must be something else,” he said.
“Maybe she was getting some kind of a weird cold or
flu, or she slept on a nerve wrong — anything other than
A friend drove her to the hospital, and tests confirmed
she’d had a stroke. The American Heart Association
recommends people call 911 immediately if they
experience stroke symptoms such as face drooping, arm
weakness or speech difficulty.
“I bawled, I panicked and I spent three days in the
neurology unit at Massachusetts General Hospital while
they did test after test to uncover the cause,” Donna said.
“At first, they didn’t find one — no high blood pressure,
no clotting disorder.”
By American Heart Association News
Donna and Dave Garlough with daughter Sarah and son Jonah