Peter Kennedy's story

Updated:Nov 23,2016
Do you think that heart and stroke events only happen to older people? I know firsthand that they can happen to anyone.

In school, I was extremely active in sports. I loved football, swimming and hiking. But after sporting events and at other times I would experience transient ischemic attacks (TIAs), or mini-stroke-type symptoms. The right side of my body — including my tongue, fingers and face — would go numb. At times I tried to say one thing but would say something totally different. At other times I couldn’t swallow. After every event my symptoms were chalked up to an asymptomatic migraine.

The events continued into adulthood, but I was determined to live my life to the fullest. At 27, I was the sole provider for my wife and two children. It was a stressful time. During one of my final TIA events, my entire body went numb, my extremities postured and I couldn’t speak. I looked at my wife and wondered what would happen to my family. 

In late 2005, I took a job in cardiovascular research. Until recently, research into detecting and treating non-infant Patent Foramen Ovale (PFO), a hole between the two atrial chambers of the heart (called the atria) was extremely limited.

One of my clinical trials was focused on PFOs and their effects on migraines. As I learned about symptoms associated with PFOs, I shared my experiences with colleagues. A quick test revealed that I had one of the largest possible grades of PFO.

I had a closure device implanted and quickly recovered. I no longer have TIAs and I have a much lower risk of a future stroke — because of research funded by the American Heart Association and other organizations. In 2008 alone the American Heart Association gave millions in research dollars, funding advancements in little-known heart and stroke issues.

Every year Richmond-area companies and individuals make a difference in the lives of real people like me by participating in events like the Heart Walk. Donations and support make a huge difference. They made a difference for me and my family. Who could you help?