After stroke, radio legend walks the talk of self-care

By American Heart Association News

Stroke survivor Patty Jackson has been on Philadelphia radio stations for nearly four decades.
Stroke survivor Patty Jackson has been on Philadelphia radio stations for nearly four decades. (Photo courtesy of Patty Jackson)

Patty Jackson has been dishing celebrity news and talking pop culture on Philadelphia radio stations for nearly four decades.

"I've always had something to say," Jackson said.

Indeed, growing up, Jackson read poems in front of the church congregation, announced basketball games and introduced a daily song over the high school loudspeaker. After high school, she took a six-month course at the American Academy of Broadcasting and found work within months.

"Their ad said: 'You could be a radio star,' and damned if I didn't do it."

By day, Jackson threw herself into work, interviewing celebrities like Denzel Washington, Quincy Jones and Lionel Ritchie. But it was a different story at home, where she was raising her now-17-year-old son and spent 25 years caring for her own mother, who had suffered a stroke many years earlier.

"It drew us closer together," Jackson said. "I have a great sense of peace, because I know that I was a good daughter."

Jackson felt profound grief after her mother died in 2015. Depression followed. As usual, she threw herself into work. But just two weeks after her mother's funeral, Jackson stumbled in the garage.

"It was kind of out of nowhere," she said. "I just fell."

As time passed, Jackson noticed a steady weakening in her right side. She struggled to lift even a pen. Her hand just wouldn't obey her brain.

Once she was assessed, doctors broke the news she had suffered a stroke. Even then, she was fixated on getting back to work.

"That's when God took my eyesight," said Jackson, who soon began experiencing triple vision. "He told me that I wasn't going anywhere."

Jackson cried for days. Her vision did not return to normal for six months, but she still had her voice.

"Clear as a bell," she said. "When I realized that I could talk, I knew God wasn't finished with me."

After the hospital, she was admitted to MossRehab in Philadelphia. She planted flowers and played video and card games to improve strength and mobility. By the time she was released six weeks later, her symptoms were much better. She spent another four months in intensive outpatient rehabilitation.

To minimize her chance of having another stroke, Jackson transformed her lifestyle, swapping sugary sodas and juices for water, upping her consumption of fruit and vegetables, and walking regularly. Although she first resisted the idea, Jackson also met with a psychiatrist, who prescribed antidepressants to help with her grief.

Jackson started working again just seven weeks after leaving the air. The public had followed her story, and TV cameras awaited her return to the studio.

Feeling conscious about her left eye, which she said was "stuck" – a result of the stroke that eye exercises have since resolved – Jackson bedazzled an eye patch that she wore for the occasion.

"I glammed it up," she said. "I felt grateful to be back."

Jackson still describes herself as a workaholic. She hosts a show from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Friday, an oldies music program every Sunday night and regular spots on her YouTube channel. But the self-proclaimed "queen of naps" also makes time for self-care, reserving one day every weekend for sleeping in and relaxation.

Jackson advises her listeners to do the same. She continues to share her story on the air and through social media. And she also participated in several events sponsored by the American Heart Association's Go Red for Women.

Her theme? Slow down, take care of yourself and listen to your body.

"Life is too short," she said. "Choose happiness and peace when you can."

Stories From the Heart chronicles the inspiring journeys of heart disease and stroke survivors, caregivers and advocates.

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