Nina Harding discounted the numbness, racing heart rate and dropping blood pressure she experienced eight years ago while delivering her son, Brady.
After all, she was an 18-year-old high school senior at the time and didn’t know much about medical conditions.
“Nobody at the hospital seemed very concerned,” she said.
Harding was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis several weeks later, after numbness below her waist persisted, and in October 2017 with a hole in her heart after two similar experiences to the one she had while delivering her son.
Diagnostic tests showed that the congenital heart defect caused three strokes before Harding turned 25. She had heart surgery to address the deformity early last year.
“I have since changed my lifestyle,” she said. “I've gone vegan, I began cycling, and that's helped me regain a lot of motor control. I have to keep weightlifting and continuing aerobic activity, and slowly but surely I'm starting to get stronger and more capable.”
Harding aims to demonstrate how far she has come on Sept. 14, when she leads a team of riders at CycleNation, an indoor cycling fundraiser at ADPRO Sports Training Center in Orchard Park to benefit the combined regional chapter of the American Heart and American Stroke associations.
Registration starts at 3:30 p.m., when participants, their loved ones and co-workers can enjoy heart-healthy snacks and nutritional advice. Starting at 5 p.m., each rider enjoys a 25-minute, high-energy cycling session led by instructors from Revolution Buffalo, Rebel Ride Indoor Cycling and Strength and Rise Fitness before handing off to another team member. Riders must register online at cyclenation.org/buffalo to start or join a team.
Harding, 26, of Clarence, is a medical assistant and part-time biomedical student at the University at Buffalo. She encourages others to nurture their cardiovascular health – because its related disease is the top cause of hospitalization and death across the region.
Q: What does a typical weekly exercise regimen look like?
When I wake up in the morning and if I'm able, I will go to either a High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) workout or a cycling class. And then I will come home, make breakfast and lunch for everybody, and I'll go to work. After work, I will go to a class at about 6:15 p.m. while someone in the family spends time with my son.
Q: Talk about your eating. What are the staples of your diet?
I went vegan and dove right in. I eat a completely plant-based diet. I started to drink more water to kind of aid with how much sweat I was losing through my workouts. I eat a lot of white rice, a lot of broccoli, grape tomatoes, local produce. I try to steer away from high carbs, the least-healthy carbs. There’s absolutely no meat or dairy products. I just drink water, coffee and kombucha. I have so much more energy.
Q: What do you wish other people knew about the warning signs and the treatment for stroke?
Symptoms include a drooping face, racing heart rate, weakness in an arm, shortness of breath, things that people can confuse with heart attack quite easily. They might think, “I just don't feel well. Let me see what's going on. I'll wait a little while." These symptoms need to be acted on immediately. I wish I'd been more persistent on following up. … People need to understand it can happen at any age. It's not exclusive to somebody elderly, or with cholesterol problems or history of heart disease.
Q: Why are you involved with CycleNation?
CycleNation and the American Heart Association do so much to intervene in these kinds of episodes. I wish I had been linked up to them so much sooner, but obviously this is serendipitous. They post articles every day on their website, scholarly articles, research articles, heart-healthy recipes, things to kind of aid people who have suffered from heart attacks or strokes or have any kind of heart-related condition.
I love that my team gets to ride together at Rebel Ride.
I get so amped up when I find a patient who's suffering from something somewhat similar to what I went through, because I know exactly how to help.