In December 2014, Tessa David – daughter of APRO President David P. David – was young, healthy, beautiful, and living her best life. Tessa, then 28, had spent five years as a cheerleader for the Indianapolis Colts and now was cheering for the Dallas Cowboys. She worked as a spin instructor and a nanny on the side, and was in a happy relationship with her boyfriend, Justin Burns.
“Everything was perfect,” Tessa recently told the Indianapolis Star. “Then I had a stroke.”
Tessa was showering one day when her right arm seemed to go numb. She thought it was probably a pinched nerve, but when she exited the shower, her sight became blurry, a massive headache ensued, and as she headed for her room, her legs went dead. Tessa reached her bed, but was in and out of consciousness. She somehow managed to call Justin, but was unable to talk. Justin assumed it was just a poor connection, and tried to return the call, but Tessa couldn’t answer.
Experts say during a stroke, every second counts in saving the victim from progressive brain damage. Tessa suffered, alone in her apartment on her bed, for 36 hours.
Her family and friends became concerned when no one had seen or heard from Tessa for more than a day, and requested the police do a welfare check. They found Tessa and rushed her to the hospital. Doctors were shocked she was still alive, and warned her loved ones she might never walk or talk again. She had extreme brain swelling, and following 12 days in the ICU, Tessa couldn’t speak, was partially paralyzed on her right side, and remained hospitalized for the next two months.
“I could do nothing,” recalls Tessa. “I was in a wheelchair. I could do nothing at the time.” Tessa worried about Justin getting “stuck” with her in such an incapacitated state. Weeping, she tried to break up with him by writing it out on a dry-erase board. He said no.
“I fell in love with Tessa, and then, after the stroke, she became another Tessa, and I fell even more in love with her,” Burns affirms. “I’m not going to say every day was bright and sunny, but she had an extremely positive mindset from day one. She didn’t sulk, she just pushed forward.” Tessa moved into rehab and began to mount an astounding recovery. Almost eight years later, she can talk and walk without a brace or cane. But Tessa still faces limitations: she has aphasia, which sometimes makes it hard for her to speak clearly; she can’t move her right hand; she has weakness in her right leg; and she can’t read or write.
But Tessa can have and raise a family; married in 2018, she and Justin are now the proud parents of Elora, 2, and Bodin, 9 months. Tessa – now David-Burns – says following many frustrating and difficult days, she feels like her life is pretty close to perfect again.
“I’d cry, and then I’d lift myself up again and move on,” she concludes.