Why One Leader Shared Her Real-Life Health Scare

Donna Arnett, the president of the American Heart Association and American Stroke Association, wants to help the public become proactive about strokes. And she's using her own scare to educate others.

Sometimes, the best way to make your point real during an awareness campaign is to simply tell your story.

And with the American Heart Association and American Stroke Association looking to raise awareness about strokes, it’s the president of the two groups, Donna Arnett, speaking up. Because she’s been there.

More details, including her story, below:

It was really terrifying being a health professional and knowing this was a stroke.

“I felt fuzzy.” When Arnett was 27 and working as a nurse for a cardiologist, she suffered a stroke, and because of her medical background, she knew exactly what was causing the symptoms she was experiencing. She first felt lightheaded but was still able to make it in to work. However, things started fading fast after that. Her speech began to slur. Her left arm and left leg went weak. By the time she got to the emergency room, she was unable to speak. “It was really terrifying being a health professional and knowing this was a stroke,” she told USA Today. Arnett, who suffers from a genetic condition that increased her stroke risk, eventually recovered, and at 54, she leads one of the largest public-health organizations in the world. She takes medication to prevent recurrences.

She’s far from alone: Arnett’s situation wasn’t much different from what many of the 785,000 people who suffer strokes in the U.S. each year face, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. With stroke being the fourth-leading cause of death nationwide and one of the leading causes of disability, it’s important to know the warning signs. That’s why, just in time for American Stroke Month in May, Arnett is telling her story as part of the Together to End Stroke campaign, designed to educate people about symptoms and how and when to act in when they occur.

Act F.A.S.T.: The campaign includes a mobile app (available for free until May 6) and a quick, shorthand slogan: F.A.S.T., which warns people to watch for face-drooping, arm weakness, and speech difficulty. If any of these symptoms show up, the group recommends calling 911.

Arnett understands that people may not be nearly as proactive as they should be in case of stroke. In her case, “I was painfully alert and understood everything going on around me but had no ability to communicate,” she recalled to USA Today. “That part was very frightening and very lonely.”

But by putting her voice out in front, she hopes to help make things a little less frightening for people in similar situations.

Have your leaders used personal experiences in public campaigns? Tell us your anecdotes below.

(Ingram Publishing/Thinkstock)

Ernie Smith

By Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is a former senior editor for Associations Now. MORE

Got an article tip for us? Contact us and let us know!