Life is Why
hile putting away groceries with her children
on July 22, 2015, Tamsen Butler, a 41-year-
old mother of two, wife, Air Force veteran
and fitness guru, felt an odd sensation, “like
something had shifted in my head,” she said.
“When I bent down to put away the doggie treats, I felt
dizzy.” As she sank to the floor, she had the thought that she
was having a stroke.
But how could she be? Health was not only stressed but
lived in the Butler home, from eating good foods to jogging
and strength conditioning. Tamsen taught several fitness
classes a week.
None of that mattered as she lay on the kitchen floor,
trying to find the words that her mind knew but could
Her daughter Monet, 12, quickly took charge, telling
10-year-old brother Abram to get a phone and call their
dad. “For once I didn’t mind my sister telling me what to
do,” he said
Husband Scott thought maybe Tamsen was having one
of her occasional migraines. He rushed home and realized
this was more serious. He called 911. Within minutes,
Tamsen was being rushed to Midlands Hospital in a suburb
of Omaha, Nebraska.
Tamsen had indeed had a stroke, dramatic consequences:
Her left side was affected so she didn’t have full use of that
arm or leg. In addition, she had left hemispatial neglect,
which meant she could see but not perceive things on
her left side. She also had difficulty finding words and
sensitivity to visual and auditory stimulation.
Doctors discovered the cause of the stroke: she had a
clotting disorder and a hole in her heart, called a patent
foramen ovale (PFO), a not uncommon congenital
“I had had military physicals, other physicals, and no
one had ever noticed it. And I had no symptoms and yet I
was a time bomb,” Tamsen said.
Because of the fast response, doctors told Tamsen and
her family that her chances were good for a full recovery.
It would take time, however. They wanted to send her to an
inpatient rehab facility so she could regain her speech and
re-learn to walk.
Tamsen pleaded to go home. “I physically ached to be
close to my kids,” she said. “I think that was a byproduct
of thinking I might die. I longed to hug them and cuddle
with them. I think I was also in shock about the whole
thing and figured I could ‘tough it out,’ not realizing the
full extent of my condition.”
Doctors prescribed outpatient rehab — OT, PT and
speech, and within weeks she was surpassing all the goals
that the therapist set for her.
Just when she was getting back into shape, Tamsen had
surgery to repair the PFO.
“I was not pleased with the timing, but I said, ‘OK, let’s
do this,’” Tamsen said.
Tamsen and Scott Butler share their competitive spirit with their
children Abram, 10, and Monet, 12.