NEWPORT NEWS, Va. – Nurse and stroke survivor Teri Ackerson is representing Newport News in the American Heart Association’s Women of Impact competition. It’s an effort by the local AHA to highlight health advocates from Hampton Roads to raise awareness about stroke and heart disease.
“Eighty percent of strokes are preventable with diet and exercise. I want that to be in the forefront for us to take accountability for our health and to make sure that people know that they can get treated for strokes so they can be like me,” she said.
Ackerson has spent the better part of her career as a nurse working to help stroke survivors and educate others on how to prevent it. She couldn’t believe it when the tables turned in 2013 and she suffered a stroke herself.
“I literally laid in the bed as my patients do after having a stroke,” said Ackerson. “There was a moment of bartering with God because I thought, am I ever going to be able to tell my son or husband that I love him? Are those words ever going to come out of my mouth again? Because, again, I take care of these patients every day and I know how devastating and catastrophic it can be.”
Ackerson said quick action saved her life. She said she was driving in the car with her teenage son when he noticed her speech was slurred. Her face began to droop on one side, and she lost use of her left hand. Luckily, they were only minutes away from a hospital.
“Had I not been treated, I wouldn't have the use of my left arm and I wouldn't be able to talk to you,” said Ackerson.
Ackerson led a healthy lifestyle as an avid marathon runner before the stroke, but she learned during her stroke treatment she had a previously undiagnosed heart rhythm problem, atrial fibrillation. She said that condition increased her chances for a stroke. While she is among the 20 percent of strokes that aren’t preventable, she is dedicating her life to the 80 percent who can avoid strokes by exercising and eliminating excess salt and sugar from their diet.
Ackerson is now the stroke coordinator at Sentara CarePlex on the peninsula. She is now a national spokesperson for the American Stroke Association. You can join her impact team and donate here.