Ms. Edmunds goes to Washingtonby Russell Alston
It started out like any other day. Amy Edmunds was having breakfast with her mother. She wasn’t aware anything was amiss until her mother noticed something unusual.
“I asked her the same question three times in a row,” says Edmunds. “She knew something was wrong with me and called 911.”
Edmunds, then 43 years old, was having a stroke.
That day marked a shift in the life of the Coastal Carolina University lecturer. It set her on a path that included the beginnings of the nonprofit organization YoungStroke Inc. and a trip the White House.
Edmunds recently was nominated by the American Heart Association to attend the White House’s Community Leaders Briefing on Cardiovascular Health on Friday, Feb. 24. She was the only volunteer invited from South Carolina.
She visited the nation’s capital to attend the conference, designed to link community leaders of grassroots organizations with officials of the Obama Administration. The administration also heard from citizens who are involved in the prevention, treatment and research of cardiovascular disease, as well those who have been affected by it like Edmunds.
The conference was split into two sessions. Session one featured speeches from White House officials, updating attendees on various governmental programs available to community leaders fighting against heart disease. Testimonials from young stroke survivors were also presented, such as the 37-year-old woman who suffered 11 heart attacks in three years. Session two was a Q & A panel, where attendees were able to interact and get feedback from their peers and spread the word about heart disease
“I was able to make connections to new programs and given the opportunity to network with like minded people,” says Edmunds.
She will use these connections to fuel the crusade she’s been on the past 10 years to benefit her nonprofit organization YoungStroke, which she started in 2004.
YoungStroke classifies anyone who suffers his or her first stroke between the ages of 20 and 64 as a young stroke survivor. Having a stroke at 43 was scary for Edmunds, but it spurred her into action. While working on her graduate degree in organizational communication, with an emphasis in health, at the College of Business and Public Relations at Murray State University, she spent a lot of her time researching for information about strokes and how they occur.
“My research focus in graduate school was of self interest at first,” says Edmunds. “I was doing everything right and didn’t think I was old enough to have a stroke.” This led her to realize the need for advocates of this particular group of people.
The purpose of YoungStroke is to address the needs of young stroke survivors that go unnoticed. Collectively, the Southern states are known as the Stroke Belt, with the coastline counties of Georgia, South Carolina, and North Carolina making up the “Stroke Buckle.” South Carolina has ranked first or second in the nation for three decades in stroke mortality rates, prior to 2007.
These facts were not lost on Edmunds when she arrived at Coastal in 2010.
“I am in the epicenter of stroke in America. There is no better place to see the impact of stroke.”
YoungStroke currently has three support groups that meet once a month in Georgetown, Conway and Murrells Inlet.
“I know of a 49-year-old woman who suffered a stroke and was moved into a nursing home,” she says. “There is no one there her own age for her to interact with.” This is where YoungStroke springs into action, by gathering survivors in the same age group together to share their stories in a comfortable and welcoming atmosphere. YoungStroke is also working on an initiative that, when completed, could serve as a resource for policy makers and healthcare providers.
“There is a tremendous need to share this message,” Edmunds says. “The whole community has to know.”
Edmunds says that there has been “an outpouring of support from our community.” She says how she is unable to attend or host every meeting, but one of the so volunteers will lead some the groups in her absence. There was the unsolicited email that she received from a woman, wondering if she would like for her to print and distribute flyers promoting YoungStroke free of charge. In April, a new support group will start having sessions in Beaufort, thanks to volunteers getting the word out. “I come from such a place of gratitude,” says Edmunds.
The trip to Washington seems to have invigorated Edmunds with a renewed sense of urgency and passion for assisting young survivors of a stroke.
“I feel a different level of validation,” she says. “I have a deeper commitment that we are on the right track, and YoungStroke will grow to a national organization.”
This is what keeps her going; the fight for those who are not able to and spreading to word about heart disease not just locally, but nationally as well.
“I have been on this soapbox for 10 years,” says Edmunds. “I have a lot to say, for a lot of people who can’t say it for themselves.”