• Vivian Liang

A Blessing in Disguise: Interview with Anita Hsieh


May 27th, 2021


Tina: Let’s start off with an introduction, what you are doing now, what you are doing before

your injury.

Anita: My name is Anita and I’m from Ontario, Canada. I had a stroke at 24.

Tina: And how old are you now?

Anita: I’m 28 years old now. So it’s been four years since my stroke. A little bit about myself

pre-stroke… There was nothing much to recall… going to school studying, those things, and I

got a job after graduating from university, and I just started for… 8 months and my stroke

happened. I basically couldn't work afterwards. Thankfully my work was very accommodating,

so I was off work for one year, but I had a gradual return-to-work plan afterwards. I returned in

2018. So I would say my stroke was a shock to me, not expected, I didn’t even know strokes

could happen at a young age. I thought it was just people who were older or had health

conditions. I didn’t know what happened, since I don’t have the most typical conditions like

diabetes, cholesterol, or high pressure. I thought to myself that this is so random, and none of my

family, my grandparents has any stroke history, this is so random for me. So yeah, it’s been four

years now. I didn’t work for a year after my stroke. For four years I spent a lot of time focusing

on my health and recovery. I’m very grateful I had a team back them, had a lot of therapy and

physical therapy, psychologist, all those therapies. Now I'm back to work, but at least we get to

work from home because of covid.


Tina: Are you still with the company that you started off at?

Anita: Yes. I’m very grateful for my old manager, no longer my manager anymore but my

previous manager, I was very grateful that I had that.

Tina: After joining Voices of Brain Injury, I read about so many stories and came to realize that

it really can just happen out of nowhere.

Anita: When I was in the rehab center, after my stroke. I was definitely the youngest one, the

second youngest one was in his thirties. And I went after that, because he was considered young,

and after that is over 65. I felt so different. I couldn’t walk after the stroke, I was totally disabled

and couldn’t do anything by myself. That was.. I would say it was an interesting experience…

Tina: This is why it’s so great that you are doing this. To share with the world and to break the

stereotype.

Anita: Yeah, that’s why I wanted to do this because people assume donly old people get strokes,

and how important brain injuries were.

Tina: And moving right on to the meat of this interview, the nature of your injury, how it

happened, and what you were going through emotionally , physically, throughout that one year in

your life, of course as much as you feel comfortable.


Anita: I still remember it til this day, I don't think I would ever forget it… So I go to dance class

once a week, and on that day, I was just doing dance things and I was fine. And then I was

running errands. I went to Walmart, specifically Walmart, and started getting pain around my

neck and shoulder area. It was a different kind of pain, the one you think is muscle or sore ache,it was weird. When I went back home, I coulndt’ put on the seat belt because it was that painful,

even to just have it on my right shoulder. But I brushed it off, obviously I didn’t think it was a

stroke or something, I thought I must've injured a muscle really bad. I went home, and I took a

hot shower thinking it was just a muscle ache. But it was hurting for a good five hours. I

remember specifically afet my hwer, I'm assuming because it was a hot shower, I don't know if

that affected the artery or something, so the whole thing was that I had a clot. So I had an

ischemic stroke, I had a dissection, basically a tear in my neck in my artery, so that was clotting,

so no blood flow was getting to my brain or out of my brain. All of a sudden my right ear started

ringing very loudly. I was kind of delusional, felt like I was in an alternate dimension. So I called

911. Good thing it happened beforehand because right afterwards my speech, like I couldn’t

speak afterwards. So paramedics came and they did the fast check. Apparently my face was

drooping, they did the whole lift your arm things. I actually thought I lifted my arms up fine, but

I guess I didn’t, also a slurred speech. Yeah it was an out of body experience, good thing it was

very fast and I made it to the hospital very quickly. In time for everything so then the doctors did

their thing which I was not aware of. But I actually thought I was gonna die that day, I didn't

know what was happening to me. First they gave me some clot busting medications, and that

didn't work, so I went into surgery. I woke up a few days later , in the ICU, totally disoriented. I

couldn't really think and I didn’t have any thoughts because I see my mom, and doctors and

nurses ask you a lot of questions. That was basically my experience on that day.

I would say emotionally it didn’t kick right at the beginning. I didn't know what to feel.

Once I got transferred to the stroke rehab center, that’s when I felt like I understood what was

happening to me. The first thing I wanted to do was to research everything. But emotionally I

was very confused and frustrated. I looked up and asked. Like why me, why did this happen to

me. It was a long process. The first thing I really wanted to do is to walk. Again out of

everything I really just wanted to get up by myself. In the beginning you can see the progress

really quickly, but after the 6 months mark, you reach a plateau, like you’re still recovering, but

it takes longer. I thought I was gonna be better the next day, and be able to go to work the next

day. Even now, four years later, my right hand is still not at 100%, I would say I’m 90% good,

and still have some deficits.


Tina: Do you think the deficits will get better or are they perpetual?

Anita: I really wanted to be normal again, I wanted to go back to before the stroke, back to being

a 20 year old girl. I wanted to do things I could normally do, but I just accepted that I don’t think

I could ever be normal. I don’t think I want to go back anymore. I have come to terms with my

body and disabilities, I’m okay with the fact that I am a person with a disability. Before there was

embarrassment, judgement, and being ashamed. As Asians, you had to have [perfect], there’s old

people talk, with the aasian community,I felt that I have to improve and be better. I’ve come to

terms with that, but in the beginning I felt the pressure that I had to be a healthy young girl.

I would say the mental and emotional part is harder than the physical recovery part, for me. And

the feeling of benign judgment, embarrassment, and pressure.

Tina: Wow, this is my first time hearing about the Asian identity aspect of brain injuries.

Anita: Yeah, in questionnaires they always ask if you are a minority, then, what kind: female,

asian, I fit all the quiteria. People also say I’m such a rare case.The identity part added another

burden in the rehab process. As Asian, I was embarrassed with my Asian identity, and I always

hid that part of me, and to tie it with my stroke, I wanted to hide that part of me too because I felt

like there’s another added thing on my list. Because in my early twenties, just graduating from

university, there’s cliques so I had that mindset in the beijing. Now I'm 28, late twenties going

into thirties, so it sucked having my stroke, but it is also a blessing in disguise. I realized a lot

about being canadian, and a woman with a disability, especially the mindset, and people who are

minority also feel the same way that I feel. After that, my mom didn’t tell anyone in the asian

community. It’s hard to tell for me now, because I look completely normal. But my parents, they

accepted it eventually.

Tina: Was that disheartening?

Anita: Yeah, it added on to the burden. I felt like I was the burden to my family. Why did I

bring this to my family? For sure it was harder for my parents to accept it. It was the process of

grieving, denial, anger, and upset, and acceptance is the last thing. My mom is now worried

about me, that it could happen again. And as a woman, giving birth, and being pregnant has

increased risk because of estrogen levels. My mom was worried, because now that I’m at the age

of getting married. I have a boyfriend now, but before, is anyone okay with being with someone

with a stroke history. No one is going to love me as I am. But my boyfriend knows now. I don’t

really think in the future, I’m just trying to live in the moment now.


Tina: Is there anyone that helped you or inspired you during this journey?

Anita: Obviously the doctors that saved my life. But on top of the cultural thing, I would say my

mom. Love language is very different, and asian parents, it’s not words of affirmation but she

was there to bathe me and feed me. I didn’t like hospital food, so she brought me homemade

food everyday. I really appreciate her doing that. My mom and my grandma as well. They would

always be there with me in the rehab center. Without them I wouldn’t have recovered this fast.

Also my sister and dad, I know they were supportive of me too. My boyfriend inspired me in a

sense that he told me “to be a voice, not an echo”. Because I always hid everything, and I am a

rare case, so I should talk about it and share it and raise awareness. When I got vaccinated, the

nurse worked on the stroke floor, and she had so many questions for me because I am such a rare

cse, because it can happen to anyone in their twenties, teens, or thirties.


Tina: Are there any resources that you feel is important to share with the Brain Injury

community?

Anita: The book A Stroke of Insight by Jill Bolte Taylor. She was a doctor and also had a brain

injury, and she wrote this book and did a ted talk. That was really inspiring for me. And also

HeART of Stroke. The rehab center gives a booklet from HeART of Stroke. Googling helped me

a lot. Especially the women’s part. I’m the type of person that wants to know everything and

wants to be in control of everything. I did my due diligence in research.

Tina: Were you able to hear about other people’s stories during your journey?

Anita: Yeah there was a lunch table at the rehab center. My therapist told me to share, but I was

not ready at that time. I think it was hard, especially a community that was younger, in their

twenties or something. That was really hard. I met a woman in her thirties, that was the closest at

that time. Still, as a female, it was interesting, because her stroke also happens after a hot shower.

Hers was from birth control, which was why I researched so much on females, because we react

so differently compared to males. Not a lot of people in my category…


Tina: Any final reflections?

Anita: Yeah I’m still living with this, it's a blessing in disguise and I wouldn’t want to wish it

upon anyone. But I feel like life has its ways, it's meant to be, there's reason and purpose, and I

really try to appreciate it. Trying to find the good out of it, which helped me a lot through the

rehab process. You know, don’t give up and it will be better in the long run.


Interviewed by Tina Yang

Recent Posts

See All