BY ETHAN BURNS, AMERICAN HEART ASSOCIATION
Pamela Anderson Bowen has been a master gardener for years, but her journey back to nurturing her flowers has not been easy. “I have a passion for the outdoors and nature, and I love to dig in the dirt,” Pamela said. “After my last stroke, gardening was the first thing I wanted to be able to do again.”
Pamela is a four-time stroke survivor. She didn’t even know she had her first two strokes. In 2012, she had her third official stroke in the shower. She was trying to turn the faucet off but her right arm wouldn’t move. “When I was stepping out of the shower, I could feel my face drooping and I knew immediately that it was a stroke,” she remembered. At the emergency room her suspicions were confirmed. The physicians at Novant Health Forsyth Medical Center told her it was a stroke and let her know that it was not her first. They also discovered that her strokes were due to antiphospholipid antibody syndrome, which makes her blood more likely to clot, and her clot traveled through an undiscovered hole in her heart. But that’s not the end of Pamela’s stroke story.
Approximately two years later, her husband Larry walked into the kitchen and knew that something was not right. “I knew I didn’t feel like myself and I was doing strange things. I was actually burning my own hand on the griddle,” recalled Pam. Once again, Larry jumped into action. “I lovingly call him ‘Flatline Larry,’ as he is so calm in a crisis,” Pamela shared.
After her fourth stroke, Pamela lost her ability to speak for three months. “It was incredibly difficult to know what I wanted to say, but to not be able to communicate it,” she shared. When her speech did come back, with much effort and therapy, it came with a surprise. She suffers from Foreign Accent Syndrome due to the stroke. Though she used to do a lot of international travel with her career, the accent is not from one distinct place, but rather a mix of accents. “I grew up in Hickory, North Carolina and with my new accent after the stroke, only a few ‘choice’ words come out with a southern accent,” Pamela said with a smile. Physicians often ask her to share her story to help others in North Carolina dealing with this rare side effect.
Pamela spends a lot of time taking care of her garden, which she adores dearly. She acknowledges that even with all that has happened to her, she keeps a smile on her face and a positive attitude. “After my first stroke, a relative brought me some very unusual clippings from her garden to add to my garden at our new home. That really motivated me to get back to my passion,” shared Pamela.
“Gardening is important to me and is my way of enjoying life. It’s important to realize that there is still life after stroke,” said Pamela. “For me, I plant my flowers and watch them grow. That I can still do.”
May is American Stroke Month and women account for nearly 58% of total stroke deaths. The American Heart Association recommends F.A.S.T for the most common warning signs for stroke. F.A.S.T stands for: face drooping, arm weakness, speech difficulty, and time to call 911. For more information, please go to stroke.org.
Pamela Anderson Bowen is sharing her story to increase awareness of stroke in women. Novant Health is proud to be the American Heart Association’s “Life is Why” and “Go Red for Women” sponsor in Forsyth County, celebrating, supporting and encouraging women to put their health first wherever they may be in their journey.