'I need to walk again': Stroke survivor keeps promise to her husband, who died on 9/11

By Diane Daniel, American Heart Association News

Stroke survivor Beth Murphy is drawing on the memory of her husband, who died on 9/11, to stay strong for their kids and others. (Photo courtesy of Beth Murphy)
Stroke survivor Beth Murphy is drawing on the memory of her husband, who died on 9/11, to stay strong for their kids and others. (Photo courtesy of Beth Murphy)

From her hospital bed, Beth Murphy demanded that a television be brought into her room. She needed to see the face of her husband.

Kevin Murphy died on 9/11 as he worked at the World Trade Center in New York City. Of the 2,977 killed that day in separate terror attacks, Kevin and 2,752 others died at the twin towers. He was 40 years old.

On the 20th anniversary of 9/11, Beth couldn't attend a memorial event with her children, Connor and Caitlyn, who were 7 and 4 when their dad died.

Instead, Beth was processing the news her doctors delivered the day before: She might never again use the left side of her body.

When her husband's image appeared on screen, Beth spoke to him through tears. "Kevin, I need to live for these kids," she said, "and I need to walk again. I promise I will do everything I can to get stronger."

Earlier that week, Beth woke up with a massive, pounding headache.

Caitlyn, who had been living with her mother in Northport, New York, was working from home that Tuesday morning.

When Caitlyn saw her mom, she noticed one of Beth's eyes looked red and puffy. She knew her mother had a high tolerance for pain, so if she was complaining about a headache, it must be serious.

Connor, who was living in Manhattan at the time, also was at the house so the family could be together before the 9/11 event.

"Mom, you really need to go to the doctor," Caitlyn said. "This isn't like you."

"I'm just stressed because of everything going on this week," said Beth, who worked as a counselor for veterans, particularly in suicide prevention.

That afternoon, Beth went to her gym.

A cheerleader in high school and college, Beth had always made time to exercise. Powerlifting was her latest passion. She hoped that lifting weights would alleviate the stress she thought was causing her headache.

Afterward, she felt no better.

Before dinner, Caitlyn found her mother hunched over on the couch.

The left side of Beth's face was drooping. Her speech was slurred.

"Mom, I think you're having a stroke," Caitlyn said.

Beth insisted she was fine.

Caitlyn knew the acronym FAST, a way to remember the signs of a stroke: Face drooping, Arm weakness or Speech difficulty means it's Time to call 911.

"Connor!" she yelled. "Call 911! Mom's having a stroke."

Beth received clot-busting medication in the ambulance. At the hospital, diagnostic imaging showed that Beth had a large clot on the right side of her brain.

She was airlifted to another hospital to have the clot removed in a procedure called a thrombectomy. She also had dissected carotid arteries and two brain bleeds.

Three days later, Beth woke up but she couldn't move her left side. She had trouble swallowing and talking.

The good news: She had no cognitive deficits.

After three weeks in the hospital, Beth spent two months in rehabilitation. The entire time, she pushed herself to make good on her vow to Kevin.

Her speech improved. Learning to swallow took longer. She eventually learned to bear weight on her left leg. Then she began taking steps with a leg brace and a four-pronged cane.

"I was the enthusiastic patient that kept saying I wanted to walk upstairs and do wall sits," she said. "I take on each challenge, and I want to succeed."

Beth Murphy is able to walk on her own with the help of special equipment. (Photo courtesy of Beth Murphy)
Beth Murphy is able to walk on her own with the help of special equipment. (Photo courtesy of Beth Murphy)

She celebrated many "firsts," including putting on her own clothes and driving (with the help of special equipment). Now a year later, she can walk alone in her neighborhood with a cane. She recently walked 3 miles with a friend in a charity event.

"I want other people who have had strokes to realize that there is so much they can learn to do and keep doing," she said. "Every little bit counts. Relish in the little victories."

Doctors told Beth that twisted arteries led to a tear and a clot that caused her stroke.

Beth continues to see a physical therapist and two occupational therapists, one for fine motor skills and the other for strength. She recently started speaking with a neuropsychologist to help level her emotions and battle the loneliness she feels in the evenings.

One of Beth's biggest disappointments was having to leave her job to focus on healing.

She's always worked in helping professions, including guidance counselor and veteran assistance. Now she hopes to continue that mission by helping other stroke survivors.

One of Beth's next goals is to dance at Connor's upcoming wedding.

"I have to be able to dance with my son and smile like I've never smiled before," she said.

Beth Murphy (center) with her children, Caitlyn (left) and Connor. (Photo courtesy of Beth Murphy)
Beth Murphy (center) with her children, Caitlyn (left) and Connor. (Photo courtesy of Beth Murphy)

Caitlyn is sure her mother can meet any goal.

"When I first saw her walk, it was incredible. The other day she sent me a video of her squeezing something with her left hand, and it was amazing," Caitlyn said.

"My mom is my hero."

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

If you have questions or comments about this American Heart Association News story, please email [email protected].

American Heart Association News Stories

American Heart Association News covers heart disease, stroke and related health issues. Not all views expressed in American Heart Association News stories reflect the official position of the American Heart Association. Statements, conclusions, accuracy and reliability of studies published in American Heart Association scientific journals or presented at American Heart Association scientific meetings are solely those of the study authors and do not necessarily reflect the American Heart Association’s official guidance, policies or positions.

Copyright is owned or held by the American Heart Association, Inc., and all rights are reserved. Permission is granted, at no cost and without need for further request, for individuals, media outlets, and non-commercial education and awareness efforts to link to, quote, excerpt from or reprint these stories in any medium as long as no text is altered and proper attribution is made to American Heart Association News.

Other uses, including educational products or services sold for profit, must comply with the American Heart Association’s Copyright Permission Guidelines. See full terms of use. These stories may not be used to promote or endorse a commercial product or service.

HEALTH CARE DISCLAIMER: This site and its services do not constitute the practice of medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always talk to your health care provider for diagnosis and treatment, including your specific medical needs. If you have or suspect that you have a medical problem or condition, please contact a qualified health care professional immediately. If you are in the United States and experiencing a medical emergency, call 911 or call for emergency medical help immediately.