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Sheri Lindsay was standing at the kitchen table, organizing pictures for her son’s hockey banquet, when her body delivered the ultimate wake-up call.

“I felt something pop in my left eye, and I immediately said to my husband, ‘I need to go to the hospital,’” she said.

Sheri could only see from her right eye as her husband, Rob, rushed her to the hospital. When she arrived, her blood pressure was soaring at 240/180.

After a CAT scan, the doctor told Sheri she had suffered a hemorrhagic stroke.

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Sheri knew she was at risk – high risk. She was obese (weighing over 270 pounds), a Type 2 diabetic and had high blood pressure. She’d been warned to get it all under control, or else … well, she might suffer a stroke.

“This might not have happened if I had done what the doctor told me to do,” she thought.

Now that it was happening, she braced for the fallout.

Doctors found a lesion on the right side of her brain. Fortunately, she did not need surgery. She saw more doctors to assess the rest of her damage, and she followed up with an ophthalmologist about her painful eye.

The ophthalmologist told Sheri she had severe retinal damage.

“He held my hand and said, ‘You either need to make a change or you’re going to die. I cannot even tell you if you are going to get your vision back,’” she recalled.

That’s the only time Sheri cried. The Trenton, Michigan, mom, who had put her family first as she rushed from this hockey practice to that football practice knew she had to make a change if she wanted to continue being there for her family.

“Four days later I joined a gym, sat down on one of those bikes and peddled with one foot because that’s all I could do,” she said.

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Sheri (right) and Trenton Mayor Kyle Stack following Sheri's speech to the Trenton Rotary Club

In the 15 months that followed, Sheri lost more than 130 pounds. She went to the gym without fail and at night walked the family’s rescue dog, Maverick, with her husband, even though numbness from her stroke sometimes made it feel like someone was sitting on her.

“It’d take us three hours to do two miles, and it was so very painful,” she said.

Her sons, Robbie and Andrew, showed her proper weight-lifting techniques and pulled her up so she could do her first sit-ups. Sheri also visited a nutritionist, started keeping a food journal and counting calories. She hasn’t had a hamburger or a slice of pizza since her stroke in February 2012.

“Immediately I started to follow the rules, from the testing to starting to exercise,” she said. “I just jumped full force in and decided to make this huge change.”

She’s kept the weight off with hard work and discipline.

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Sheri’s vision returned within five months. Although her eyesight isn’t perfect, the retinal damage has not gotten worse. It took a year to regain the strength in her left side to accomplish the moves she can do today, which include 100 push-ups and 100 sit-ups a day. The latest addition to her workout regimen is cardio-kickboxing class five days a week.

She is no longer a Type 2 diabetic, but she is Type 1. Her pancreas isn’t working, which may require an insulin pump. She continues taking medicines to control her diabetes and blood pressure, diseases that her father suffered from as well. He died at age 59.

“I’m 51 years old. I look a lot younger now,” she said. “I can’t even believe I’m doing the stuff I’m doing now.”

That includes embarking on a journey of motivational speaking to deliver her message of hope and inspiration: that it’s never too late to become heart healthy. She has spoken to thousands at events sponsored by the American Heart Association and the American Stroke Association. The AHA presented Sheri with its Lifestyle Change Award at the 2014 Detroit Heart Walk.

Stroke is the fourth-leading killer of Americans, and a leading cause of adult disability. The American Stroke Association wants all Americans to know that stroke is beatable, treatable and largely preventable. It’s also important to know how to recognize a stroke F.A.S.T. – that is, if you detect face drooping, arm weakness or speech difficulty, it’s time to call 9-1-1. The sooner care is given, the better the chances for recovery; time lost is brain lost.

“I often call my stroke the gift that just keeps giving,” Sheri said. “It has given me the opportunity to make the changes necessary to live a healthy, fit lifestyle and to be able to share my story of recovery and help inspire others.”

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Photos courtesy of Sheri Lindsay

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Send an email to stories@heart.org that’s as brief or as detailed as you’d like.

Previous “Stories from the Heart” include:

Building a new life after congestive heart failure

In Chase’s memory, family teaching others to know risks of sudden cardiac arrest

Strong resolve leads stroke survivor from being immobile to hiking 7 miles