Thursday, May 5, 2011


By Shelly White Millwee, American Heart Association

Stroke can happen to anyone, at any time and at any age.

It happened to Houston author, hip hop artist and mother Toni Hickman when she was just 32 years old. Her gorgeous brown hair was shaved, she had staples in her head, she couldn’t talk and she was completely paralyzed. In that split second, her life had forever changed. A picture of good health, Hickman regularly exercised and was always conscientious about the food she ate in order to set a strong example for her six-year-old son, Javon.

“I was always health conscious. Sometimes I would drink socially, but I always did things that were productive to my health,” said Hickman. “My major problem was stress.”

Hickman admits that recovering from a stroke was at times very difficult to bear. When her doctors suggested to her mother that she look into longterm care at a nursing home, her mother said “As long as my child gets her mind back, the body will come.” And the body did come in time. Just one year later, Hickman was beginning to stand up straight, walk slowly and talk.

While Hickman can’t wear her fashionable heels or run anymore, she knows that she is lucky to be alive and be able to share her story. She is longtime volunteer with the American Heart Association, and feels that sharing her message is important because “people often wait for something bad to happen.”

The hardest part of Hickman’s recovery was the pain she saw on her young son’s face. For a small child, she worries that the image he saw of her in recovery has destroyed him. She admits that he is extra cautious of her now and constantly concerned about her health. During her recovery, she struggled with depression and feelings of hopelessness.

“My son, mom and two aunts pulled me out. Their strength helped me. My aunt would come to the hospital every day,” said Hickman.

According to the American Stroke Association, stroke is a leading cause of death and disability in America, and while it affects all Americans, African Americans are at particularly high risk due to factors such as high rates of elevated blood pressure, diabetes and obesity.

“My advice to people would be to please watch what you are eating. Please do everything you can to get healthy. I’m young and this happened to me,” said Hickman.

May is American Stroke Month. To learn more about the signs and symptoms of a stroke, please visit or call 1-800-AHA-USA1.

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