ilian Tsi Stielstra was a couch potato.
But at age 46, that changed.
Waking on a Saturday in 2010 in her San
Francisco home, she recalls feeling tired. She
brushed it off as stress from her demanding
bank sales job.
Walking up the stairs, she felt “pins and needles” in
her left leg. A few minutes later, her left arm had the
same sensation. Then the left side of her face felt numb.
“I realized it was a stroke because it was all on one
side,” Lilian said.
Her husband, Scott Stielstra, a firefighter and
paramedic, bundled Lilian into the car and drove about
three blocks to UCSF Medical Center. The American
Heart Association recommends people experiencing
stroke symptoms, such as face drooping, arm weakness
or speech difficulty, call 911 immediately.
Lilian’s stroke came six months after she was diagnosed
with high blood pressure, a leading risk factor for strokes
and heart attacks. Tests after the stroke showed that she
also had high cholesterol and high triglycerides, other risk
factors for heart disease and stroke.
Being an overweight woman with a stressful,
sedentary lifestyle also increased her risk of stroke.
Although Lilian, now 53, has no residual effects from
the stroke, her neurologist recommended that she walk
for 30 minutes a day.
“My excuse for many years was that I didn’t have
time to exercise,” said Lilian, who was interviewed for
this article while she walked through Golden Gate Park.
She made time.
A neighbor volunteered to walk with her every day at
6 a.m., keeping her accountable. Within two years of her
stroke, she was jogging and pledged to run by age 50 the
local 7.5-mile Bay to Breakers race — known for runners
dressed in costumes. She did, with her then-13-year-old
son Peter. She was a tiger mom, complete with a tail.
Now, Lilian runs about 4 miles a day, farther on
weekends. She also started swimming two years ago and
is trying strength training.
She changed her diet, eating more vegetables and
grains, and less sugar. She substitutes Greek yogurt for
Lilian also stopped working 15-hour days at her job,
where she often was the top salesperson. In 2016, she
was No. 7 out of 35 people.
“I just learned to live with that,” Lilian said. “I
decided I cannot afford my health to go bad again.”
Those changes led to weight loss: about 25 pounds.
They also reduced Lilian’s risk of another stroke.
“It takes a lot of willpower,” said Scott, who made
similar changes. He and Lilian later this year plan to
walk the 500-mile Camino de Santiago, an ancient
European pilgrim route to the tomb of St. James in
Santiago de Compostela, Spain.
Lilian with son Peter at the Bay to Breakers race in San Francisco.