ife-altering events force us to look back on our
lives. That was especially true for me during the
first four months after my hemorrhagic stroke in
2013 at age 44. My stroke was caused by high
blood pressure and was even preceded by a TIA in
2009. Now I can see that family history was a contributing
factor. Many family members had strokes, but I was too
afraid to ask and face a scary truth. I even went off my blood
As a dancer with a master of fine arts degree, I’d always
pushed myself to be the best, out in front, in the spotlight.
That’s what dancing is all about. Early on I was very insecure,
but very determined. I worked my way into the spotlight.
Eventually, I started a dance festival in San Francisco in 1999,
and continue to run it from my home in New York. I no longer
dance because the stroke left me permanently disabled on my
left side. Now my goal is to bring dancers together to have a
positive, non-competitive experience.
The biggest beauty and
blessing for me is that my
lifelong career has been the
key to my recovery. Knowing
my body signals, my muscle
structure and how the body
moves, as well as organizing
dance events has literally saved
my body and brain. I have been
bringing dancers together for
15 years through the Vision
Series Dance Festival. The
more I do, the better I get, each
and every day!
Despite the disability, I have never been more confident in
myself than now. Why? Because I am who I am, exactly as
you see me, not trying to be something I’m not. I can’t! Even
though I am not center stage, I now “dance” backstage as the
dancers shine in the spotlight! It’s very exciting to watch! I am
proud and honored. My unfortunate situation is a blessing, I
am alive and thriving and will never give up. Why should I?
My insecure past has led me to a very secure present. That’s
the way life goes, everything does happen for a reason!
I’ve learned some valuable lessons that have become my
words of wisdom, my “WOW”:
• Take action to live a healthier life before tragedy
strikes. Learn your family history; don’t be afraid to ask
questions of your doctors and your family.
• Slow down and stop trying to be more than you are.
Accept yourself, the stress to ‘be more’ can push us all
too far, and it may take a toll on the body.
• To overcome tragedy, keep living your dreams and
doing what you enjoy. It makes a physical and emotional
difference and it will also save your soul and your mind.
• Most importantly, be a survivor and love yourself NOW,
before it’s too late and you are forced to look back and
wish you had done things differently.
Day to day we all have many priorities. But, if even for
brief moments, slow down, close your eyes, breathe and
smile. Make your body and emotional well-being your top
priority! Trust me, your loved ones will understand and
thank you for it!
I am proud to be a survivor!
DONNETTE HEATH | Survivor
Tarrytown, New York
Survivor and dancer Donnette Heath, founder of Dance Repertory