Two decades ago, odds are you’d find Sheri Pherigo line-dancing the night away or teaching aerobics classes. You might even find her bronzed and outfitted in spandex, competing in bodybuilding competitions.
These activities made up a large portion of Pherigo’s life until a little less than 16 years ago, when the fit and healthy young woman suffered a massive stroke.
“I was an aerobic instructor right before this, so they really didn’t know how this happened or why this happened,” she explained. “I’d had a perfect physical three weeks before this, so I couldn’t understand why it happened either.”
Oct. 31, 1997, started out like any other day for Pherigo, who was working at the Walmart pharmacy. After lunch, however, she began feeling ill.
“I was working at the pharmacy and I had gotten sick, so I went home,” she said. “I was throwing up, and I did feel kind of tingly, but on both sides. I had just come back from having lunch so I thought it was something I ate.”
Because her symptoms didn’t align with traditional stroke symptoms — numbness on one side and a severe headache — Pherigo didn’t think anything beyond the fact that she had fallen ill.
“I had managed to get out of bed — I took a shower went onto bed — and, boy, vertigo had hit by then,” she said. “I went to the bathroom and I thought, ‘oh boy, this isn’t right’ and I managed to call 911. Just as I was going down, they came in.”
Pherigo was transported to Skiff Medical Center but required a LifeFlight transport to Iowa Methodist Medical Center in Des Moines.
“I guess I flatlined three times going to Methodist,” Pherigo explained. “I don’t remember much, but my husband was talking to (my neurologist) and they said they didn’t know what was going to happen ... but when I woke up, I said, ‘Oh, I’ll be all right,” she added with a laugh.
While doctors couldn’t perform an angiogram or MRI on Pherigo for a few days, she soon learned that the problem stemmed from her ventricular arteries, which had dissected, resulting in six to eight “bleeds.”
Upon initially waking up in the hospital, Pherigo’s rehabilitation began with her eyesight.
“One thing I can remember distinctly is that half of my eyesight was gone in my left eye,” she explained. “I suggested a patch over this eye in the morning, which made this eye work twice as hard. I’d switch it in the afternoon and, within a week, my eyesight was back.”
Other facets of her recovery took a little more time, but with the inspiration of a young boy in the same physical therapy unit Pherigo soon progressed.
“My memory was gone, but one way or the other I was going to get better,” she said. “My doctor just smiled at me and said, ‘I think you will, you have the determination.”
“Every day I was going down for therapy — they found out you have got to have physical therapy as soon as possible — but I think my determination came from one of the kids down there ... this kid looked at me and said, ‘I’m gonna surprise my therapist. I’m gonna walk and step up those three steps, you watch me.’ I said, ‘I think he can do it,’ and he did it, and I thought (the therapist) was going to cry. I figured if he could do that, I could.”
Pherigo’s realization that her predisposition to stroke was genetic — she had taken care of both her mother and father following strokes — led her to delve into her rich geneology as a hobby. Her living room now boasts walls of photographs, some decades old and some recent, of her extended family.
She emphasized that, because of these factors, stroke shouldn’t be ruled out for people in otherwise perfect health.
“People get the idea that, because I had this kind of stroke, everyone else recovered the same way,” she said. “I don’t think that’s fair because strokes affect everyone in a different way ... but I think there has to be hope for everyone.”
“That I recovered, it’s been a miracle,” she added. “You don’t want to take anything for granted, you never want to take your health for granted.”
Staff writer Nicole Wiegand may be contacted at (641) 792-3121, ext. 422, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.