By: Julie Murphy
Last May, when Tiffany Frazier became an American Red Cross board member for the Northwest Arkansas Chapter, she never dreamed five months later she would have a stroke.
One Saturday morning in October, Frazier, age 37, was running on her treadmill at home in Bentonville, Ark., when she suddenly began to feel off. She was participating in a live-stream Peloton class and started to have double vision, or, as she described it recently, she saw “two instructors on the screen” when there was actually just one.
Soon, Frazier realized that the coordination in her right arm was limited, and about five minutes passed before she was finally able to shut off the treadmill and stop running.
Eventually, she called out to her husband, Myron, to tell him that she wasn’t feeling right, but when she tried to do so, only one word came out: “weird.”
Then, within minutes, she was feeling nearly normal again.
A heart issue discovered
For much of her life, Frazier had been a competitive athlete, and she remained in top physical shape. The possibility that she had just had a stroke just wasn’t on her radar.
“I thought maybe I was just dehydrated,” Frazier says.
The next day, however, she continued to have issues with her speech (a condition known as aphasia). So, accompanied by her husband, she headed to the emergency room at Mercy Hospital, in Rogers, Ark. An MRI revealed that she had, in fact, had a stroke.
Over the next several weeks, Frazier went through a whirlwind of medical evaluations, tests, lab work and procedures. Through it all, one looming question was: What had caused the stroke? Knowing the answer could help prevent another one.
Ultimately, just days before Christmas, Frazier went to the Mayo Clinic, in Rochester, Minn., where a team of cardiologists, neurologists and internists confirmed what her doctors at Mercy had highly suspected: She had a small hole in her heart, between the upper right and left chambers. All babies are born with a such a hole, which typically closes during infancy. However, in approximately 25 percent of people, the hole remains. Most people who have the hole – known as a patent foramen ovale (PFO) -- never know it. In rare instances, though, the PFO leads to medical issues. In Frazier’s case, the hole allowed a blood clot to travel to her brain — and resulted in a stroke.
At the Mayo Clinic, on Christmas Eve, Frazier underwent an outpatient procedure to repair the PFO. The hole was patched with a catheter.
Recovery, then onward
Afterward, Frazier hardly missed a beat. The following day, she and her husband headed back home to Bentonville to celebrate Christmas with their five-year-old son. Then, just six days after the heart procedure, she returned to exercising -- walking at first, but soon running again.
“Between the date of my stroke and the end of the year, I had run 175 miles,” Frazier says.
On top of that, just a week and a half after undergoing the procedure to fix her heart, Frazier returned to her job as director of product safety and compliance at Walmart.
Volunteerism – a new take
The experience led Frazier to re-think her many commitments. In the past, she gave freely of her time and leadership skills, volunteering with multiple boards and organizations. Since recovering from the stroke and heart procedure, however, Frazier admits, “I’ve been more selfish with my time.”
These days, she focuses her volunteer efforts more keenly on just a few organizations, such as the Red Cross, whose missions directly align with her two primary passions -- family and health.
Frazier joined the board of her local Red Cross chapter in May. In addition to helping raise funds to support Red Cross efforts, she currently serves on the Biometrics and the Mission Committees. Mission Committee members coordinate Red Cross community outreach initiatives, including Sound the Alarm: Save a Life, a series of home fire safety activities geared toward at-risk communities.
Frazier also works with the Diversity and Inclusion Committee, which aims to involve people of diverse races, ethnicities and backgrounds in Red Cross programs and volunteer opportunities.
As an African American, Frazier has become particularly interested in recruiting more African Americans to donate blood. After becoming a Red Cross board member, Frazier learned that African Americans in the U.S. are more likely than other ethnic or racial groups to be born with sickle cell disease (SCD) – an inherited blood disorder that can require frequent blood transfusions. People of African ancestry – or of any common ancestry -- are more likely to have similar blood subtypes of those suffering from SCD. The Red Cross encourages African Americans to donate blood so that complications from blood transfusions given to African American SCD patients can be reduced.
“Once I learned about the benefits of more African Americans giving blood and how that can positively impact African Americans with sickle cell, I shared that with my church, and now they’re willing to participate in a (Red Cross) blood drive later this year,” Frazier says. The timing of the blood drive will be especially significant; it will be held on Juneteenth, the annual celebration to commemorate the emancipation of enslaved people in the United States.
Giving her all
Frazier’s friend Tanya Cook, of Springdale, Ark., a registered nurse who had served on the board of the Northwest Arkansas Red Cross chapter, encouraged Frazier to join the board.
“I thought she could bring a little diversity to the table,” Cook said recently. “And with her insight into health and fitness -- not just physical fitness but mental and spiritual fitness, too – I thought she would bring something to the table.”
“Tiffany is a very passionate person,” Cook says. “She puts 110 percent of herself into anything she does.”
Frazier on volunteering: how to get started
“One of the things I’ve found is that when people want to get involved, they don’t know where to start,” Frazier says. “The Red Cross is a big organization. If someone doesn’t know where to start, I would say the best place to get exposure to the Red Cross is to either sign up for a CPR training class or to give blood.”
Doing so can provide a chance to learn more about the Red Cross and then to “plug into” its many volunteer opportunities, Frazier says. In the meantime, taking a Red Cross lifesaving course or donating blood is a form of volunteering, Frazier notes. “You never know when you might need that (CPR) training, and you just never know when someone is going to need your blood,” she notes.
To learn more about Red Cross lifesaving training courses, such as CPR, go to redcross.org/take-a-class.
Another valuable resource is the Red Cross First Aid app, which provides practical information on everything from insect bites to life-threatening emergencies, such as heart attacks and strokes. The app can be downloaded for free through the Apple App Store or Google Play.