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Daily Memphian
Matters of the Heart
February 14, 2019
By Dr. Mary C. McDonald

It is said that there will come a time when you will think that everything has ended; that will be the beginning. Not long ago I thought that, for me, everything had ended.

Several years ago, I had a stroke. It was never on my to-do list, not part of my plan. It just happened. My first memory of that morning was hearing my husband, Joe, ask if I was getting up. I opened my eyes and responded. The response was only in my thoughts. I could tell by the look on his face that something was wrong.

I couldn’t understand why he didn’t hear me, why I couldn’t get up and why he was calling 911.

Try as I might, I could not speak, and I could not move my right side. I was trapped inside my own body. There was a disconnect between my mind and my physical reality. I ached for connectedness, but something was missing in the uncertainty of what lay beyond this time and place.

My past and my future converged in the emergency room. It was a strange feeling for an educator not to be able to communicate, or to direct the activities around me. My family rushed to be with me. They talked to me, quizzed me, and reminded me of their love and all I had to fight for.

In spite of what everyone else saw, they recognized the person within. They held hands with me and prayed. It was in that oneness of our shared memory, and our shared hope, that God retuned to me my sense of connectedness to others.

Although I could not speak, I could hear and I could think. I heard the doctors tell my family that recovery was possible but could mean quite lengthy therapy. So, I gave it to God, and He gave it to all those people who put me in their prayers. All of those people in churches, in schools, in workplaces, in prayer groups, in private, who did for me what I could not do for myself, and they asked Him to heal me. I will forever be grateful to them.

I continued to recover, and within a couple of weeks, returned to my family, and to my work. Prayer and therapy helped me to overcome any residual effects of the stroke. My stroke was attributed to a patent foramen ovale, a hole in my heart, a congenital heart defect I was born with that went undetected. It allowed a blood clot to pass through. It since has been closed.

My experience is not unique. There are thousands of stroke survivors and people who experience some form of heart defect. February is Heart Month, sponsored by the American Heart Association. Due to their advocacy efforts, now, every baby born in Tennessee is screened for congenital heart defects before leaving the hospital so that the condition can be addressed before becoming life-threatening.

Not long ago I thought that, for me, everything had ended. I know now it was the beginning. The beginning of using my experience to help others understand the importance of heart health and stroke awareness in saving lives, and the quality of life, for all.

Contact Dr. Mary C. McDonald, a national education consultant, at 574-2956 or visit

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