WEST ORANGE, NJ — Judy Zayas has all she hoped for: a beautiful family, a great job and coworkers that she can call friends. When she went to the doctor for what she thought was a simple procedure on her neck, she didn’t expect to experience her first stroke.

Zayas will be sharing her story as she leads the 2019 Greater Northern New Jersey Heart Walk on Sunday, Oct. 20 at the South Mountain Recreation Complex in West Orange an effort to fight heart disease and stroke in her own community.

According to the American Heart Association (AHA), stroke is the No. 5 cause of death and the leading cause of disability in the United States and can happen to anyone, anywhere at any time.

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A stroke occurs when a blood vessel that carries oxygen and nutrients to the brain is either blocked by a clot or ruptures. When that happens, part of the brain cannot get the blood and oxygen it needs.

Knowing the warning signs can help people spot a stroke and potentially save someone’s life. According to AHA, one easy way to remember the warning signs is by using the term F.A.S.T.—Face Drooping. Arm Weakness. Slurred Speech. Time to Call 9-1-1.)

In the next two years, Zayas started to experience a few TIA’s, also known as “mini strokes,” which are caused by a temporar clot. Soon after, she experienced her second stroke.

Zayas received quick care and was able to walk out of the hospital both times without any issues, but only until January of 2019.

She was on her way to work when she felt her arm and face suddenly start to go numb and also felt pain in her chest. According to Zayas, it was different this time, and she started to feel confused, but knew that she needed to get herself to the nearest hospital.

After many tests and being transferred to rehab, Zayas felt so weak on the left side of her body that she could barley walk. It wasn’t until the 11th day that she successfully walked up all 15 stairs without any assistance, which was a big accomplishment and meant that Zayas was on her way to recovery.

After leaving rehab, it was time for Zayas to get accustomed to what would be her “new normal.”

“By participating in countless therapy sessions and constantly working out my left side, I finally had the mobility I thought I would never get back,” she said. “I will never be at 100 percent. When I’m stressed, exhausted or overheated, I can start to feel the weakness.

“Seeing a hematologist also gave me answers as to why I’ve had this repeatedly. I was diagnosed with APS (Antiphospholipid Antibody Syndrome).”

The Greater Northern New Jersey Heart Walk is part of the AHA’s “Healthy For Good” movement to encourage sustainable healthy lifestyle changes.

The event is supported locally by ADP, RWJ Barnabas Health, Atlantic Health System, Bayer, NJM Insurance Group and media sponsors TAPinto.net, NJBIZ and WDHA radio. 

Darrell K. Terry, SR., President & Chief Executive Officer at Newark Beth Israel Medical Center and Children’s Hospital of New Jersey will chair this year’s event in support of the AHA’s effort to raise funds and heartbeats in the local community.

To learn more or to register for the walk, visit greaternnj.heartwalk.org or contact Judith Friedland at 201-518-1966 or Judith.Friedland@heart.org.