1210-SFTH-Ellen Abbott_Blog

Wade Abbott chokes up when he thinks about last Christmas.

“The best Christmas present I’d ever gotten was bringing my wife home from the hospital,” he said.

At 3:30 a.m. on December 21, Ellen Abbott got up to go to her weekly early morning shift at Target in upstate New York.

“I had dropped my toast, and when I went to make some tea, I couldn’t make my hand work,” Ellen said. “My face felt weird.”

She went into the bathroom, still not feeling right. She banged on the counter to get her husband’s attention and when Wade arrived, she told him something was wrong.

What he heard “can only be described as a cross between Scooby Doo and a Minion,” Wade said. “I knew F.A.S.T., and her symptoms couldn’t have been clearer.”

Wade’s referring to the acronym that describes the symptoms of a stroke: face drooping, arm weakness, speech difficulty, time to call 911.

The ambulance arrived in 8 minutes. By then, Ellen’s speech had gone from garbled to slurred.

A CT scan and MRI confirmed the stroke, most likely caused by a small tear in the carotid artery in her neck.

Ellen, then 39 years old, spent three days in intensive care, anxious to get home to her two young sons in time for Christmas.

She got to go home on Christmas Eve.

Ellen Abbott with her husband, Wade, and sons Daniel (left) and Timothy at the Hartford Heart Ball in November.

Ellen Abbott with her husband, Wade, and sons, Daniel (left) and Timothy, at the Hartford Heart Ball in November.

“In just three days, I had gone from being terrified that I would lose my wife to the immense joy of being able to spend Christmas with her,” Wade said.

Their 9-year-old son, Timothy, described it as “a Christmas miracle of awesomeness.”

Timothy and 7-year-old Daniel can now expertly recite the symptoms of a stroke.

Her recovery was made tougher by the loss of both parents during the past year. Her mother died only days before her 40th birthday. Wade invited two dozen of Ellen’s friends to a party she thought was for him. He’d made a video called “8 Minutes to 40,” referring to the time he spent on the phone with the 911 operator – mostly saying, “Hurry, hurry, hurry.”

Today, Ellen has no residual effects from her stroke and takes a daily dose of aspirin. The only long-term consequence of the stroke is that roller coasters are now off limits – a big disappointment for the couple, both members of American Coaster Enthusiasts.

Ellen and Wade are now volunteers for the American Heart Association/American Stroke Association, creating awareness about stroke through appearances on World Stroke Day and the Connecticut Heart Ball.

“There are so many ‘what ifs.’ What if she’d been on the road to work? What if she’d been somewhere alone at Target?” Wade said.

“I’m just lucky to have known the signs,” he said.

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Photos courtesy of Abbott family. Heart Ball photo by Sandy Aldieri.