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Like My Character, Hercules, I Used to Think I Was Invincible

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Then in 1997, I began experiencing tingling and cold sensations in my left arm into my fingers and searing pain on my left side. A doctor's visit found a lump in my left shoulder. A biopsy was ordered, but before that procedure was able to take place, the lump decided to act on its own. An aneurysm was the culprit in my left subclavical which sent hundreds of clots into my arm, three found their way into my brain resulting in three strokes. At the age of 38, I learned I was only mortal.

The clots had lodged in the balance and vision centers of my brain. Vertigo took over and I lost 10 percent of my vision in both eyes. I couldn't even stand up to balance myself. I was experiencing vision problems, migraines, overwhelming fatigue, and arm pain from circulation loss and nerve damage. But even with all of this physical pain, the shock of experiencing such a life changing illness -- before I even had the chance to go through a midlife crisis -- was even more painful.

No one should have to go through what I did. We should all be aware that stroke is the second-leading cause of death in the world behind heart disease and a leading cause of severe, long-term disability. In the United States alone, someone suffers a stroke every 40 seconds, and someone dies of a stroke every three to four minutes. Understanding the warning signs of stroke means you can get help sooner for you or your loved ones, reducing the chances of disability or in some cases death. I am not writing this post just for myself. It is actually for the 795,000 Americans affected by stroke each year.

There are many myths and misconceptions about stroke. As a survivor, I have learned that stroke is largely preventable, treatable and beatable. An easy way to recognize the sudden signs of stroke is to remember the acronym F.A.S.T.:

  • F - Face Drooping - Does one side of the face droop or is it numb?
  • A - Arm Weakness - Is one arm weak or numb? Ask the person to raise both arms.
  • S - Speech Difficulty - Is speech slurred? Is the person unable to speak or hard to understand?
  • T - Time to call 9-1-1 - If the person shows any of these symptoms, even if the symptoms go away, call 9-1-1 and get the person to the hospital immediately.

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To help reduce death and disability from stroke, the American Heart Association and American Stroke Association have joined with the Ad Council to launch a national public service advertising (PSA) campaign to educate Americans about the F.A.S.T. method. You never know when a stroke might occur and anyone can be a bystander. The campaign includes TV and radio PSAs and an infographic to raise awareness about F.A.S.T. I hope you'll join me and people across the country by tweeting, posting on Facebook, and distributing content on websites, blogs, and e-mails about the signs of stroke.

Stroke is the number one preventable cause of disability. Let's all work together to keep our families, friends, and neighbors safe from the effects of stroke by recognizing the signs and symptoms, and getting help F.A.S.T.

As for me, it took three years of therapy to feel "normal" again. Only because of the hard work I put in and the determination to not let this beat me. I wrote a book, True Strength (truestrengthbook.com), to motivate those of us who hit a difficult road that we never thought we'd have to go down. I've got news for you. We will all hit difficult roads. It is how you react to the intrusion in your life that can define you. Never give up and never let others set your limitations. After I had my strokes, not only did I continue to work those last two years on Hercules, I did five more years on my second series, Andromeda, and have shot forty movies since then. I pushed myself to the limit because I believed I could do it.

I know now that I'm not invincible, but I also know that together we can be stronger than stroke.

For more information on how to spot a stroke fast, visit www.strokeassociation.org.