A New Sunrise is Why
by Jane Kendall
Photography by Christian Lee
When I first met Carla Raines two years ago, I was struck by her charismatic personality and enthusiasm for life. Her smile is contagious and her energy is unstoppable. Little did I know the mental, physical and emotional challenges that have woven through her life. It was her personal path of recovery from a life threatening illness that led Carla to her passion—fostering awareness and coordinating events to raise money for the American Heart Association (AHA) to provide education and research. As Development Director for the Southern Coast of the AHA, one of her roles is to produce two major events during the year, the annual Southern Coast Heart Ball each February and the Palmetto Heart Walk every April. In 2016 more than $22 million was allocated for research in South Carolina and Georgia.
As a teenager, Carla suffered from infrequent migraine headaches. As the years progressed, they became more regular and intense, despite normal medical intervention. She was referred to a neurologist in 2004 for a comprehensive workup. An MRI revealed an aneurysm in the middle of her cerebral artery. After consultations with several neurosurgeons, Carla reluctantly chose to undergo endovascular coiling to repair the defect.
During the procedure Carla suffered a hemorrhagic stroke. Immediately a spinal tap was done to prevent pressure on the brain and irreversible damage. Carla was lucky. Statistically, 40 percent of people with hemorrhagic strokes die. Her recovery was painful, long and arduous. She was determined to heal. She had a husband and an 8-year-old son, who needed her. For months she suffered weakness on her left side, vision deficits and challenges with her speech. Two of her friends came to be with her for the first few weeks. People from her church brought meals daily. She sequestered herself in a darkened, quiet room to cut down on light, sound and movement, which caused her severe pain.
During this time, Carla engaged in intense soul searching and questioned why God chose to let her survive. She contemplated what is really important to her. Her faith played a huge role in her recovery. She was determined to be there for her son. She did not want him to grow up without a mother.
Four weeks following the stroke, Carla suffered a seizure. She had to take anticonvulsant meds, which are extremely sedating, for many months. Six weeks later she returned to her job for two hours a day, still challenged by movement and speech. Upon re-entering her place of employment, Carla learned that the company was in serious financial trouble, and her position was in jeopardy. She left just before the company folded and soon found herself having to adjust to a new job.
As time went on Carla endured more personal struggles, including the unraveling of her marriage and losing her home. Her mom encouraged her to attend a Christian Women’s Conference in Charlotte, N.C. One keynote speaker, Dr. Henry Cloud, changed her course direction. He admonished the audience to establish boundaries that guard our hearts with diligence, but be careful not to turn the boundaries into walls. Carla was inspired to enlist the help of a psychotherapist for herself and her son in order to better navigate through those rough times. She hired a personal trainer and learned new habits of exercise and nutrition which she has continued in her daily life.
On her 40th birthday, Carla’s family and friends surprised her with a celebration party. Carla recalls her joy and gratitude for the privilege of having recovered so quickly and still being around. Her medical journey is not over. In 2012 Carla underwent a total hysterectomy because of cervical cancer. She is considered high risk for any invasive medical procedure because of the aneurysm. She is eternally grateful to her devoted partner Nik, who was there during that traumatic time and continues to support her in everything she does. She recovered nicely, but continues to require regular monitoring.
No matter what happens, Carla is grateful for every day. Her life lessons thus far: “Keep your sense of humor, and surround yourself with people who love you. We should all have boundaries (fences, not walls) that keep the good in and the bad out. We need things and people that nurture us. Take care and respect your body. Exercise and eat right, and take time to enjoy your family and friends. Explore! The biggest and most important gifts are our family, friends and good health. All other problems you can overcome if you have a strong body and mind.” Carla’s greatest desire is to continue to live courageously and to model gratitude and courage for others.
Most Important in My Life: son, Zachary Raines, partner Nik Prodanov, mother Carol Hawkins.
Hobbies: Music, singing, horseback riding, traveling.
Wisdom to Live By: “You cannot do a kindness too soon, because you never know how soon it will be too late!” old proverb