Maggie Everett—physical therapist, kayaker, runner—woke up in the middle of the night last year and couldn’t figure out how to get out of bed. Her partner, Dwight Shuler, was away on a business trip, so she was alone. But when she missed a morning run and didn’t show up for work, friends and co-workers knew something was wrong.
“My left arm was flaccid,” says Everett. “I couldn’t stand up and ended up on the floor. Finally, I got the attention of my neighbor, who called 911.”
At age 52, Maggie Everett had just had a stroke.
But during her recovery, she hasn’t been alone. “A stroke affects not just the patient but everyone around the patient,” Everett explains. Because of the depression and grief that accompany the physical side of a stroke, it helps to have people around, she says, noting, “I’m lucky, if you can call it that, to have so many people help me.”
Within a week of Everett’s stroke, there was an e-mail list of more than 100 people who wanted to help. Susan Woodward had roomed with her when they were students at Appalachian State University in the 1970s. The outpouring of support came as no surprise to her: “Maggie is such a giving person; she’s touched so many people,” says Woodward.
A clinical research coordinator for drug studies at Asheville Neurology, Woodward gave up her job to help take care of Maggie, who has no family nearby.
“She’s more like a sister than my own sister,” says Woodward. “This was something I was supposed to do, thanks to my husband (who was OK with [it]).” She provided Everett with emotional support, scheduled her appointments and drove her where she needed to go.
But Everett needed more. Her house—nestled in the woods near the Blue Ridge Parkway—wasn’t handicapped-accessible. Enter Paula Dawkins, who co-owns Jewels That Dance in downtown Asheville. After college, she’d raced canoes with Everett in Ashe County. Everett, meanwhile, had kayaked every moment she could, traveling to Costa Rica and the Grand Canyon to pursue the sport. She loved the Watauga River in Boone and the Gauley in West Virginia. And after Everett’s stroke, Dawkins started organizing: “We have to get Maggie’s house ready,” she told friends via e-mail.
Dawkins’ group updated Everett’s bathroom, extended the driveway to encircle the house, and redid the entryway linking the porch to the driveway. Some volunteers worked on the remodeling; others cooked, brought food or cleaned up. It was like the television show Extreme Makeover but without the cameras or the big bus. The renovations were done in a mere month—before Everett was even discharged from CarePartners. “It was a transformation miracle,” says Jeanne Warner, who works for Everett’s former employer, Mountain Physical Therapy Services.
“Strokes are a funny thing,” says Everett. “For example, all of a sudden I’ll remember someone in the distant past, and I don’t know why I’m thinking of this person. It’s very different to learn about the body from this side of the table.”
Everett grew up down east in Palmyra, N.C., population 50. But when it comes to helping people, Asheville still has that small-town, community-oriented spirit, she reflects. “I’m overwhelmed with everything that people are doing for me,” says Everett.
Before the stroke, she’d taken up long-distance running. In February 2007, Everett ran the Mount Mitchell Challenge (40 miles and more than 4,300 feet of elevation gain) in 8 hours, 36 minutes. “Mount Mitchell is a pretty run,” she says, adding, “Running is what [Asheville long-distance champion] Ann Riddle does. I slog.”
Three months before her stroke, Everett did a 100-mile endurance run in Vermont, completing it in less than 25 hours. She was feeling good about both herself and her training.
“I’ve never been one of those ‘If life gives you lemons, make lemonade’ people. I’m not perky,” says Everett. While still in the hospital, she was given books on people who’d suffered strokes and done tremendous things. “Those books didn’t inspire me—they just depressed me,” she recalls. “How did this happen? I was fit, my cholesterol was good with a low blood pressure.”
Nonetheless, Everett suffered a carotid-artery dissection: the collapse of one of the major arteries supplying blood to the brain. They can occur seemingly spontaneously, often with no recognized cause. The artery tear allows blood to leak into the artery wall, causing more damage.
Her therapies include acupuncture, occupational therapy, counseling, neural feedback and physical therapy. But those are only a few of the many possible treatments, she notes. “You need to be rich to have a stroke. Insurance doesn’t pay for alternative therapies; they barely pay for what is mainstream.”
Everett can now walk about a mile, and she looks for places with a smooth surface, such as the start of the Art Loeb Trail or Lake Tomahawk in Black Mountain. Working on her recovery is a full-time job, and she applauds the efforts of her occupational therapist, Susan Vorhees. “She’s gotten my left arm to do things I never thought it could do again,” says Everett. And friends still bring food, organized by Lotsa Helping Hands, (www.lotsahelpinghands.com), a free Web site that enables helpers to sign up for designated tasks such as providing meals and rides.”
“I’m fortunate in many ways,” she reports. Everett’s supporters have also raised money for a recumbent bike, which she rides in Owens Park. She even took it on the Virginia Creeper Trail in Damascus. “Going downhill was fun.”
Everett, says Woodward, will never give up: “All of her training and discipline are helping her a lot, [and] the active, outdoors people around her give her motivation to work hard.”
For her part, Everett says she appreciates “little seeds of kindness,” such as the volunteers and the flowers she received in the hospital. “If you plant them, they come back very large.”
[Hike leader and outdoors writer Danny Bernstein is the author of Hiking the Carolina Mountains. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.]