Each year, nearly 800,000 people have a stroke in the United States, and more than three quarters of the time, they are first or new strokes, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

I am one of these Americans. The day I experienced the first stroke, my life changed forever. Thanks to the great care I received at Good Samaritan Hospital, plus the immense support I received from my therapists and others, I continue to heal.  Additionally, I am working to raise awareness, educate and inspire stroke survivors around the world.

Anyone who has suffered from a stroke knows that it is tremendously frightening, and recovery can be long and discouraging. In September 2016, I experienced a Pontine stroke, leaving me hospitalized for over a month and without the use of the right side of my body. A few months later, I experienced a second stroke where I was again hospitalized. By the end of the year, I was partially paralyzed and weak with extremely low blood pressure. The third stroke was in the retina of my eye.

My journey has been scary and tiresome. But more than five years and three strokes after that day in 2016, I’m no longer reflecting on the challenges I faced. Instead, I’m thankful for the community that has kept me motivated and helped me through my rehabilitation and healing process.

That started with good care.

Having had strokes with different complications each time has led to many emergency visits, specialty therapy, and hundreds of doctors, specialists, and nurses caring for me. Because of these medical emergencies, I have suffered from paralysis, weakness, black outs, concussions, and more. But no matter my condition or needs, Good Samaritan Hospital has always provided an extremely high level of care.

Whether in the emergency room, ICU, or rehabilitation at their Mission Oaks Campus, my care was personalized and attentive, and it ultimately kept me on my path to healing. Good Samaritan and the many members of my care team were truly gifts from God.

But they were not the only team caring for me. Since the first, I have had an army of support from family, friends, and other survivors. Knowing that I was not alone in my journey was so crucial for my mental wellbeing and stimulation. It helped me cope, improved my mood and attitude, and reduced my stress and anxiety.

Everyone deserves to have this level of care and support. And I recognize that I was lucky to have a hospital nearby that had great medical professionals willing to put in the time and a support system lifting my spirits. That is why my husband, Bob, and I started Champion the Challenges. We want stroke survivors—and their families—to know they are not alone. We want to help them understand stroke signs and complications, navigate care and therapy, and advocate on their behalf because we know that it is a tough journey. But with the right tools, we can continue building and strengthening communities and reimagining and improving stroke rehabilitation and outcomes for survivors.   

Chances are, we all know or will likely encounter someone who is a stroke survivor. Spotting the signs of a stroke, acting fast, and having reliable hospitals, like Good Samaritan, are crucial to anyone suffering from a stroke. I am one of the lucky ones, and I hope we can continue building our community, raising awareness, and ultimately, helping survivors discover what makes them a champion.

Deb is a three-time stroke survivor and the founder and leader of Champion the Challenges, an organization dedicated to helping stroke survivors, therapists, family and friends reimagine stroke rehabilitation.

Deb is also the 2022 winner of the “Stroke Survivor Hero Award.”  Stroke Survivor Hero Awards were created in 2020 as a way to nationally recognize incredible individuals and groups who are working to prevent, treat or beat stroke, the No. 5 killer and a leading cause of disability in the U.S.,” said Stephanie Mohl, vice president of the American Stroke Association. “This year we recognize Deb Shaw as the Survivor Hero for the incredible impact she has made and the work she continues to do to help educate, inspire and raise awareness about stroke.”