Twenty-year-old Tia Timpson was your typical, hard-working college student and then the unthinkable happened. One otherwise normal day, she had a massive stroke that paralyzed her left side.
Timpson was rushed to the hospital but her care was delayed by critical moments because the staff wrongly diagnosed her with “altered mental status.” Even the medical community didn’t associate stroke symptoms with a 20-year old.
At a second hospital, attempts to break up the clot in her brain with medication failed, and doctors had to remove half her skull and surgically remove the clot. This would be the first of six surgeries Timpson would face over the past few years—with one more scheduled this fall. But Timpson’s spirit is indomitable. Her “glass-half-full” attitude helped her get out of a wheelchair and walk a 5K race less than a year after the stroke.
“It’s typical to get sympathy when I explain all these surgeries to people,” Tia says. “But I tell people not to feel sorry for me. I am lucky to have access to good care and I will do whatever it takes to get back to my pre-stroke self.”
She has also had several consecutive surgeries on her left arm to get it moving again. But Timpson sees a bright spot among the challenges.
“I’m so thankful that I am right-handed, and all the problems I have are on my left side,” she says.
While her mother followed Timpson with a wheelchair that entire first 5K race— just in case—she never stopped to use it. Timpson’s father has also been key to her recovery. They wake up at 5AM each day to do physical therapy together before work.
Staying committed to therapy is the main advice Timpson shares with stroke survivors.
“I tell people nothing will change if you don’t fight for your recovery,” she says. “You have to fight every day for who you want to be again. This applies to people who have survived all kinds of setbacks in life, not just a stroke.”
While Timpson’s positivity and work ethic have been essential to her success, she’s quick to point out that faith is involved, too. She credits an elderly woman at her church who suffered a stroke years ago with inspiring her to get up and walk again.
“She told me things are so different now and I can recover from this because of all the advancements in care today,” Tia says. “She made me see that I am blessed and my life didn’t have to be this way.”
Today Timpson is continuing the college education she was forced to abandon because of the stroke. She plans to focus on her recovery and her future, including completing her finance degree online, obtaining a master’s in sports business and inspiring other women to know the risk factors and warning signs for stroke.
“I’ve learned that stroke can happen to anyone at any age, but it’s not going to stop me,” she says. “I’m going to keep fighting—every day.” —Elizabeth Moreno, Go Red for Women, American Heart Association