Nov. 30, 2005 started out just like any other day for Jean Robertson, a lawyer and shareholder with McDonald Hopkins Co. in Cleveland. She was scheduled to leave on a business trip to California. But, at the age of 40, little did she know that what seemed to be a migraine headache would actually be a stroke.
“I started what I thought was going to be a fairly ordinary business trip to California,” Robertson recalls. But at a breakfast meeting and on the way to the airport she developed a headache. As she went to meet her business partner before boarding the plane, things only got worse. “The vision in my right eye got blurry,” she says. “It was as if my right eye had a mind of its own. All I wanted to do was find a fountain and take my migraine medication. The word ‘stroke’ didn’t occur to me.”
As Robertson proceeded through security she noticed her purse and briefcase kept slipping off her left shoulder and she felt unbalanced. But she ignored the symptoms and boarded the plane. “I figured I’d take a nap on the plane,” she recalls.
Robertson never got her nap. By a fortunate twist of fate she was bumped to first class and seated next to a talkative traveler who wouldn’t let her sleep. As the flight progressed Robertson’s seatmate began having trouble understanding her words. “He kept asking me to repeat myself,” she says. “I touched my lips with my hand and realized I couldn’t feel my lips — my whole head was numb and my left side was completely paralyzed.”
An ER doctor was on board and determined Robertson was having a stroke. The pilots made an emergency landing in Kansas City, Mo., and Robertson was rushed to the hospital.
Robertson went through three months of speech, physical and occupational rehabilitation. Today she is back at work and doing well with the exception of numbness in her left hand and fatigue.
Robertson hopes her experience will make other women pay attention to stroke symptoms. “It can happen to anybody at any time,” she says. “I didn’t have all those factors they look for in high risk for stroke. None of us are exempt, and not having the symptoms or family history does not exempt you from having a stroke. Don’t ignore your body. Make time for yourself when you don’t know what’s going on.”