Sunday Conversation with Cindy Chenier

Stroke survivor tops her ‘comeback’ with 5K

When Cindy Chenier showed up in the emergency room feeling rotten, no one saw the stroke coming. Chenier was only 47 after all and in great shape. Then the stroke came. “The doctor was in shock,” says Chenier, who lives near Atlanta’s Chastain Park. With her faith to keep her going, she has spent the past six years trying to recover both her health and the life that she knew before. On Oct. 7, Chenier moved 3.1 miles even closer to that goal when she completed the National Stroke Association’s Trail 5K. Now she is looking for ways to inspire and educate other stroke patients on how to turn a setback into a comeback.

Q: What were you doing before the stroke?

A: I had a nonprofit to support kids in foster care. I was holding a fundraiser for it the day that I started feeling ill.

Q: Why did you go to the ER?

A: I had gone to a red-hot yoga class after the fundraiser to relax. I started feeling lightheaded and I was having a headache. I went home, took a shower and called my sister. She told me to go to the hospital because my words were slurring. The doctor gave me some migraine medicine and decided to keep me overnight. I had the stroke in the hospital.

Q: How did the stroke affect you?

A: It was bad. I was paralyzed on the right side and I couldn't talk or walk. The recovery was very hard for me. I didn't want to walk with that damn walker. Speech therapy was very hard but I have a desperate faith, which makes you totally open to ideas no matter how ridiculous they may seem.

Q: What is the hardest part of recovery?

A: I don't know, maybe the emotional part. It was scary not being able to walk or talk. It is taking everything I have to keep going and inspire others to keep going.

Q: Did the doctors ever figure out why you had a stroke?

A: They found out that I have a protein C deficiency, a genetic disorder that is hereditary. That's what led to my stroke. A year before, I had blood clots in my lungs. The doctors said the clots formed during a plane trip to Hawaii. Protein C deficiency causes blood clots.

Q: Did it help that you were in such good shape to begin with?

A: One of the trainers said, "Thank God you were working out before — you came back strong." I was always in perfect shape. I was an aerobics instructor, jogged three miles a day and played golf. Now, I have to exercise every day or I will get weak again.

Q: Any lasting effects from the stroke?

A: My right arm is still weak and the fingers on my right hand don't really work. But the brain is strong so I pretty much do everything with my left hand. I have had to slow down a lot. I have to think before I talk otherwise I mess up. It has been hard to get my life back together but you just have to deal with it. Every day is a silver lining. I am what you call a miracle in motion.

Q: How was the race?

A: I was so excited to talk to survivors and caregivers. The energy of the race was amazing — I ran the 5K in 45 minutes. But it is not about the competition. A real comeback is inward as well as outward. Part of the comeback for me includes fighting for someone else to comeback.