In the middle of a phone conversation with her son on a recent Wednesday morning, Conyers resident Lilieth Tiller began to garble her words and felt her right hand go numb. She dropped the phone.
A nurse for 38 years, Tiller knew exactly what was happening.
"I'm saying to myself 'I can't believe I'm having a stroke. I just celebrated my 60th birthday,'" Tiller said. "I said 'I refuse to die in this house today.'"
She managed to navigate down the stairs of her home and she struggled to open the front door with her left hand.
"I was frantically trying to get out of the house," Tiller said.
She ran out into the street and flagged down a motorist, who turned out to be a neighbor, Michelle Turner. Unable to talk, Tiller tried to write the word "stroke" with her fingers in the driveway. She couldn't remember how to spell it.
Turner called 911.
"(Michelle) was so nice and I remember she stayed right there until the ambulance arrived," Tiller said.
An off-duty Fulton County fireman, Alan Clay, also stopped to help. He took Tiller's vital signs and spoke with paramedics on the phone about her condition. He also called her son, who was already en route, and tried to determine what medications she may have been taking.
"It's what we do every day," Clay said. "I have a duty to act."
Emergency medical services took Tiller to Rockdale Medical Center where doctors administered a clot-busting medication. Tiller said she considers herself fortunate to have gotten good medical care so quickly.
"You have three hours from the time the stroke starts to get to get to the hospital and get medicine," Tiller said. "The time is running and that's all you have."
Stroke is the third leading cause of death in the United States and the No. 1 cause of serious, long-term disability, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control. The CDC also reports that stroke death rates are higher for blacks than for whites.
According to the National Stroke Association website, www.stroke.org, stroke warning signs include sudden numbness or weakness of face, arm or leg, especially on one side of the body, or drooping of one side of the face; confusion, trouble speaking (such as slurred speech) or understanding; trouble walking, dizziness, loss of balance or coordination, including one arm drifting inward toward the body; and severe headache.
If any of the symptoms are observed, experts say call 911 immediately.
Three and a half weeks after suffering the stroke, Tiller can now walk and perform daily tasks. She has a slight stutter and sometimes speaks with a Caribbean Islands accent she didn't have before the stroke.
"I am so thankful that I can communicate. It's the most horrible thing (when you can't)," said Tiller, who works as a nurse for the Veteran's Administration. "I've had (stroke) patients, I see tears coming from their eyes. They want to talk so badly."
Tiller lives in the Weatherstone subdivision with her husband and mother, and she has a son and daughter, a stepson and six grandchildren.
She believes a higher power influenced the course of events the day of her stroke and she is grateful for her "two angels," Michelle Turner and Alan Clay.
"It was all in God's divine plan," Tiller said. "When you look at me, you look at a miracle."