Posted on March 18, 2016

No one, including the emergency department physicians who treated her initially, thought Tia Timpson ’15 could be having a stroke. She was in otherwise excellent health, just 20 years old and in her second semester at The University of North Carolina at Greensboro.

In fact, on September 12, 2010, Tia had a massive stroke that left her hemiplegic with paralysis and weakness on her left side. She was hospitalized for weeks and underwent multiple surgeries, including one to relieve the pressure on her brain by removing a section of her skull.

“My brain had experienced so much stress and trauma. They kept my skull in a freezer to keep the tissue alive and I wore a helmet that protected my brain,” she says. “I remember waking up in my own room in the hospital. I knew something was wrong and then I realized there was no movement in the left side of my body. I couldn’t stand; I couldn’t walk. I was devastated.” After being released from the hospital, Tia spent a month in a rehabilitation facility near her home in Baltimore, Maryland, undergoing speech, physical and occupational therapy. It was during that time that she began to plan for a changed future.

“I have a lot of determination and tenacity. I wasn’t going to let the stroke stop me,” she says. “I fought every day.” Tia’s first major goal was an ambitious one: She was determined to complete a 5k by the first anniversary of her stroke. Her next goal was even loftier: She would return to school to finish her degree. Indeed, one year after the stroke, Tia walked across a race finish line and just one year after that, she resumed her studies, this time enrolling in the Bryan School of Business and Economics’ online degree program to earn her bachelor’s in business administration.

“Returning to the UNCG campus was out of the question, but the fact that I was able to return to college and complete my degree online with all that I’ve been through is an amazing blessing that UNCG offered me,” she says.

Tia, who still suffers effects of the stroke, including paralysis in her left hand, jumped in, taking three courses each semester and, in 2014, took advantage of a study abroad opportunity at Stellenbosch University in South Africa. “When I first learned about it, I thought, ‘Why can’t I do something like that?’ I’ve always loved to travel and got my passport at 17. So I applied for the Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship and booked my flight,” she says. “It was such an impactful experience. It really widened my lens to a global perspective.”

Tia already has checked so many items off her new, post-stroke “bucket list”—volunteer with the American Heart Association and American Stroke Association to share her story and help others, check (she was named a national spokeswoman for those groups in 2012); install adaptive equipment in her car to resume driving, check; get a full-time job before graduating, big check. Tia had once interned at Harford Mutual Insurance Companies. After the stroke, her previous supervisor offered Tia a part-time position and she began working one day a week while finishing school. The part-time work led to the offer—even before Tia completed her coursework—of a full-time job as a treasury accountant. Next up for Tia: earning a master’s degree.

“I would love to be a CPA or I might start my own nonprofit to help young survivors, not just of strokes but other illnesses and accidents,” she says. “If I say it’s going to happen, I’ll do anything I can to make it happen.”


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