By Carol Radin
Photos by Maureen Tricase
What does a mother say to her 10-year-old daughter, who is about to take on a big responsibility with her mom in a very public community event?
“I tell her,” Lindsay Shaw said, “‘You should be blessed you have this opportunity.’ I want her to be proud of what she’s been through… to wear her scars with pride.”
Lindsay and her daughter Stella are this year’s honorees in the Syracuse American Heart Association’s Heart Walk in April. And for both mother and daughter, it’s personal, as both have experienced cardiovascular problems. Lindsay is a stroke survivor, and Stella is living with a congenital heart defect. Their involvement in the Heart Walk is their way of raising awareness about cardiovascular health to people of all ages.
For Lindsay, life changed in October, 2014. It was the day after her 33rd birthday and she and her husband, David, were planning on dinner out that night with friends. She’d had a headache for days. As a nurse at Upstate University Hospital and the mother of a 3-year-old and a 4-year-old, she simply attributed the pain to the usual demands of a working mother. That day, however, the headache was much worse. She recalls the rush of pain at the back of her skull when she bent down while cleaning, and then nearly fainting. Even as a nurse, Lindsay didn’t acknowledge that the symptoms might be due to a stroke. At the Emergency Room later that day, the report was a shock to say the least: Lindsay was experiencing a subarachnoid hemorrhage from a damaged artery. Surgery, two weeks in the Intensive Care Unit, and three months of bed rest followed, a time when Lindsay could concentrate on nothing other than the alarm which awakened her every four hours for a round of medication. Fortunately, she recovered, in small increments — first enough strength to get into a chair, a little more strength to raise herself to a walker, then to take a step, then to take a few more steps. Once able, Lindsay returned to work, doing part-time for the next nine months.
Today Lindsay appears healthy and fully functional, though she admitted “nothing’s the same as it was.” Still, she knows how lucky she is.
“We are both blessed,” she said of her herself and her daughter. “You’re never promised tomorrow.”
Today Lindsay is an active mother again, back to the outdoor water sports she enjoys with her husband and children at their camp on Wellesley Island each summer.
Then, two years ago, Stella was diagnosed with her heart defect. In retrospect, both Stella and Lindsay now recognize some of Stella’s early symptoms. When bike-riding, the then-8-year-old always took up the rear. She couldn’t run and was often tired. Her legs would ache and she would have nosebleeds.
Stella herself matter-of-factly describes the surgery to repair her aorta. She draws two cross-sections of an aorta side-by-side.
“Normal aortas look like this. Mine,” she pointed out, “looks like this.” Said Mom, “We didn’t keep anything from her,” to which Stella added emphatically, “Mom can be very honest!”
Like her mom, Stella also seems perfectly healthy, and has racked up plenty of school and sports activities to prove it. She swims three to four times a week with the Baldwinsville Sharks, a competitive swim team, covering as much as 20 laps in a practice. Lindsay said swimming was a huge part of Stella’s recovery. Just this past December, Stella participated in a 200-yard swim-meet competition. Out of the water, Stella’s pastimes cover the spectrum from science to the arts. In school, she is a member of the STEM Club (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics). Her career goals?
“I want to go to Cornell to be either a veterinarian or an aeronautical engineer,” she said.
It would be hard for her to choose right now because, while she enjoys all things outer space, she also cares for three pets: two cats and a bearded dragon lizard named Bernie. Her artistic pursuits include drawing, making bracelets, and learning to play the saxophone, which she started last year.
Though mother and daughter lead very busy lives, their activities with the American Heart Association are essential to the values they want to share.
“We like giving back,” Lindsay said, so it was a natural for them to look for a community organization they could be involved in together. Last year, Stella raised $1200 for the Heart Walk. At age 10, she is especially impressed that the Heart Walk activities at Onondaga Community College’s SRC Arena are fun for kids.
“They have GAGA ball, and educational quizzes, and free food, like chips and snackies,” she said.
For other adults and children, whether facing surgery after diagnoses, or needing to understand the signs of cardiovascular problems, the mother and daughter share their advice in tandem. First Lindsay said, “Trust your instincts” when looking for signs of a problem. “Trust your body. And trust your motherly instincts!” At that, Stella joined in. They continue in unison, “Be brave. You’re stronger than you think.” Finally Stella’s face lit up as she is struck by one more message that is meaningful to her. She spoke up on her own to exclaim, “It’s okay to be different!”