“Don’t Mess with Tess” campaign fights for stroke survivors

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VERMILLION, S.D. (KCAU) – It’s been five years since Contessa Siders suffered a stroke, and she shows no signs of stopping on her road to recovery–driving herself three times a week to work out with her trainer.

“She doesn’t waste time,” her husband, Aaron Siders said. “She goes at it, [and] goes at it quickly.”

At just 33 years old, Tess, as she’s known to her family and friends, suffered an ischemic stroke that affected her ability to move and speak, and ended her career as a salesperson.

“With my stroke, it happened within three minutes,” Tess said.

Tess spent a week in the ICU before being transferred to a Lincoln rehabilitation center. She spent two months there learning to move and speak again.

“She could say the word ‘yellow,’ and that’s about it,” Aaron said.

But Tess never let her stroke get the best of her–in therapy six hours a day, and earning quite the reputation amongst her nurses.

“She earned the ‘Don’t Mess with Tess’ because she was the type that, as soon as it was time to stop, she wanted to keep going,” Aaron said.

On the road to recovery, Tess discovered a fact that blew her away. According to the National Stroke Association, the likelihood of an adult between the ages of 18-44 suffering a stroke has increased 44% in the last decade.

So what can you do to fight the odds?

“Be FAST,” Tess says.

FAST is an acronym for stroke symptoms. According to the American Stroke Association, you should watch for facial drooping, arm weakness, speech difficulty, and know when it’s time to call 911–an important message Tess says she wanted to spread like wildfire.

It inspired her to start “Don’t Mess with Tess.”

“When you’re this young, you don’t think that you’re going to see the signs. Part of our awareness campaign is to make sure that people, no matter what age they are, realize what it is,” Aaron said.

But Tess didn’t stop there–she has taken her campaign straight to Iowa’s capitol.

“The state of Iowa does not recognize a stroke as a brain injury,” Aaron said. “[It] can cause a lot of problems when it comes to your insurance, the rehabilitation that you receive, your social security, disability, anything that can help get you through from day to day.”

That hasn’t happened yet, but Tess has been instrumental getting other legislation passed, like a stroke primary care bill signed in 2017.

With the help of the American Heart Association, Tess even took her campaign to Washington–talking with legislators who have also suffered strokes.

“They are living with the symptoms still today,” Aaron said. “So that’s our big goal–to get them on our side to understand that this is an important thing.”

While she still has a long way to go, politically, Tess says she won’t give up. It’s a fight that has motivated her own recovery, along with the birth of her son Soren.

Tess says she will work towards a full recovery, no matter how long the road ahead may be.

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