November 5, 2010

When a stroke changes your life…

Posted in Between Us column, Health, Relationships, Spirituality, Women at 7:38 pm by dinaheng

My dear friend Susan Swan is one of those women who live in grace. No matter what happens, she encourages others to stay centered, see the positive, and trust in divine goodness.

As a yoga instructor, breast cancer survivor, and a grandmother who delivered two of her grandchildren when the midwife was late, Susan is an inspiration to everyone she meets.

This June, in the middle of teaching a yoga class, Susan suffered a stroke.

“I knew something was wrong, and at first, I was dizzy,” recalls Susan, 66, speaking slowly as we share dinner in her kitchen at home in Los Angeles. “I tried to get my head up, and the next thing I can remember was my daughter-in-law saying something’s wrong.

“They put me in an ambulance, and I (understood) little tiny bits. I remember a doctor, and seeing (my children) Barnaby and Jeff. I knew something was pretty bad because they looked so awful. I didn’t get that I couldn’t speak at first because I was thinking the words in my head.”

Doctors diagnosed arrhythmia, an abnormal heart rhythm that caused a blood clot to go up into the brain.

Because of her breast cancer, Susan does not have health insurance, and since she did not file paperwork for Medicare on time, she is financially responsible for most of her medical bills. Medicare will cover only a portion of her hospital stay. While she is unable to work, family and friends have rallied to provide a safety net.

Using, her daughter Barnaby created a community calendar of tasks that all could contribute to. People prepared meals, provided transportation for  medical visits, and helped with speech therapy homework.

“I have apraxia,” Susan says. “I know what I want to do, but the brain paths have to be made new. When I was in intensive care, I was trying to put water in a plant, and it went everywhere. I also have aphasia. I know the thoughts, but it’s hard to get them out.”

Her progress over the last five months has been remarkable. She can do most physical tasks like putting on earrings or pouring water now, and has started reading and writing again. She sees a speech therapist twice a week, and goes to a support group for people who have aphasia.

“Almost everybody (in the group) is so lovely, and only two people seem bitter,” Susan says. “One girl just keeps saying she wants to travel, and she can’t drive. So she goes everywhere with the bus. It’s frustrating sometimes. It’s hard to make yourself clear in a store or something, if people aren’t patient.”

But as Susan adds, “Okay, so you can’t speak. Don’t let it keep you from doing what you want to do. People say, ‘I’m so sorry,’ but it’s just another yoga. Everybody has something they’re dealing with. Not being able to speak… is it better or worse than everybody else and what they’re facing?”

She is determined to regain the life she enjoyed before her stroke, saying, “I’m going to do all of it. It’ll just take a while.”

More than anything, she is grateful for her family and friends. In a world where health care costs more than the air we breathe, a sudden loss of health and income could be devastating for any of us. And in the convoluted bureaucracy of a health care system that no one seems willing to fix, it’s easy to get lost.

“I am so lucky to be surrounded by love,” Susan says. “I really don’t have to say all the things going on in my brain. You look at people, and learn a lot about them. It’s a whole other way of seeing.”

That’s the kind of grace that defines a remarkable woman.

If you’d like to make a contribution to the Susan Swan Fund, you may do so through PayPal, or with a check.

PayPal link:

To send a donation enter:

Checks made out to Susan Swan Fund can be sent to:

c/o Barnaby Murff, 1015 Keniston Avenue, Los Angeles, CA 90019




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