Real Women, Real Stories: Tamika Quinn, 27

Courtesy of the American Heart Association

Tamika Quinn always struggled with her weight. She developed high blood pressure while pregnant with her daughter but didn’t take it seriously until she survived two strokes 10 days after giving birth.

Growing up in a low-income neighborhood in Philadelphia, Quinn recalls accompanying her grandmother as they took two buses to get to a grocery store with fresh fruits and vegetables. Her family made fresh fruit and vegetables a priority, even though their diet also heavily incorporated rich Southern favorites featuring fatty meats and fried food.

Looking back, Quinn says she wasn’t concerned about the extra weight she carried because many people in her family were overweight, as well.  Several of her family members also had high blood pressure but it was not discussed.

When Quinn, then 27, developed high blood pressure while pregnant with her third child, she was told it would go away once she gave birth. It didn’t, and her doctor prescribed medication. Not believing she needed it at such a young age, she refused to take the medication.

In 2002, 10 days after her daughter, Sequoia, was born, Quinn woke up with an excruciating headache. She went to an urgent care clinic where she was given painkillers and medication for high blood pressure. The pain intensified, so she went to the ER where she was diagnosed with a hemorrhagic stroke, followed by a second stroke three days later.

It took months for Quinn to recover her ability to walk and speak. She continues to deal with memory loss and muscle control. The strokes were a wake-up call to take her health more seriously. She took her medication as prescribed and lost weight.

After four years, Quinn went back to overeating, indulging in unhealthy foods and skipping on her blood pressure medication. After talking to her doctor about a migraine, she learned her blood pressure had gone back up.

“My doctor told me I was headed down the path to have another stroke,” she said. “I realized I needed to get my life together.”

Around that the same time, Quinn’s daughter, Cashara, then 8, was diagnosed with high cholesterol and obesity. Desperate to avoid medication, Quinn and her daughter joined a hospital-based nutrition program to overhaul the family’s eating habits and prioritize exercising. The work paid off. Quinn dropped several dress sizes and was allowed to reduce her medication. Cashara, now 18, reached a healthy weight.

“You’re talking about a whole family that has changed,” Quinn said.

Quinn is now an advocate for heart health, encouraging women to know their numbers and make lifestyle changes that can make a difference.

“I know the value of my life, having almost lost it,” she said. “I want to go forward and live the best life I can.”

Signs that you may be having a stroke:

  • Sudden numbness or weakness of the face, arm or leg, especially on one side of the body
  • Sudden confusion, trouble speaking or understanding
  • Sudden trouble seeing or blurred vision in one or both eyes
  • Sudden trouble walking, dizziness, loss of balance or coordination
  • Sudden severe headache with no known cause

You should never wait more than five minutes to dial 9-1-1 if you experience any of the signs above. Remember, you could be having a stroke even if you’re not experiencing all of the symptoms. And remember to check the time. The responding emergency medical technician or ER nurse at the hospital will need to know when the first symptom occurred.

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