0813-SFTH-Michelle McVeigh_Blog

Michelle McVeigh was the picture of athleticism and loved the great outdoors. An avid bicyclist, she was accustomed to long rides and racing on a biking team. Years earlier, she competed for the United States in world junior rowing.

Nothing seemed to slow her down.

“I’ve always been super healthy,” she said. “My whole life has been really, really active.”

One Saturday she was bike riding with a friend in the Baltimore area. They were headed home after doing 35 miles when McVeigh, who then went by her maiden name Melka, noticed trouble with her eyesight.

“All of a sudden, the world looked different. It was like I was looking through water or glass,” she recalled.

Closing one eye and looking out of the other seemed OK, but with both eyes open she had double vision. Her friend Sarah stopped with her, and they walked to a nearby driveway. After sitting down, McVeigh simply fell over.

A woman came out of the house and drove a dizzy, nauseous McVeigh and her friend to Johns Hopkins Hospital, about 30 minutes away.

At the hospital McVeigh was rushed into the emergency room and underwent a CT scan. Doctors told her she was having a stroke and gave her tPA, a clot-busting drug that can improve the chances of recovery if administered soon enough.

McVeigh remained in the hospital for two days, but thankfully she suffered no lasting effects and didn’t need rehabilitation. Soon she was able to return to exercising and taking her school finals. (That fall of 2012 she was a student in health economics at Johns Hopkins School of Public Health.)

Finding no family history of stroke and no obvious risk factors such as smoking or high cholesterol, doctors didn’t know why the stroke occurred. The only risk factor they identified was use of birth control pills, which can increase the risk of stroke, especially in women with high blood pressure, according to the American Heart Association.

McVeigh stopped taking the prescription. As directed by her doctor, she also began a baby aspirin regimen.

A week after the stroke, McVeigh and her mother went to the home of the woman who drove her to the hospital to take flowers and to say thank you. The woman wasn’t home, and they never met again. But she considers her quick help that day as crucial to her recovery.

“I think of that lady like my guardian angel,” she said.

Now 35, McVeigh lives in San Francisco with her husband Brendan and 1-year-old son, Allen. She volunteers for the AHA, something she did even before the stroke. Several years ago, her women’s cycling team raised money for the AHA.

Michelle_credit Steve Anderson

Michelle McVeigh raced in 2011, the year before her stroke, to raise money for Go Red For Women.

These days she volunteers at Go Red For Women luncheons and other AHA events. Her message: If there is something out of the ordinary involving your health, take it seriously — and take action.

“Go to the doctor. Don’t be afraid,” she said. “My passion is just to make sure to explain what can happen to people, [even] young healthy people.”


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Photos courtesy of Michelle McVeigh and Steve Anderson